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Howard County plans to double enrollment in summer school this year to combat ‘COVID loss’

The Howard County school system is hoping to double its summer school enrollment this year for students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and virtual learning.

During the school board’s meeting Thursday, district leaders described how the system plans to increase staff, add learning programs and get 25% of its students to enroll in this year’s summer schooling.

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The main enrollment additions will be to recovery programs for all grades and tutoring for elementary and middle school students, said Caroline Walker, the system’s executive director for program innovation. Programs will vary in modality from in-person, hybrid and virtual learning.

“We’re very concerned about COVID loss and the needs of our students who may have not benefited by being virtual in the last school year,” Walker said. “We know that’s not all of our students, but we know there’s a significant population that would benefit from additional support.”

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With the impacts of the pandemic and virtual learning setting some students back, Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said it’s crucial for the system to get as many students as it can to enroll in the four- to six-week summer school programs. In the recovery programs, which will be half days, additional instructional time will be added.

“The curriculum will also be revised to focus on the most essential instructional components from the previous grade,” Martirano said.

To increase enrollment in summer programs, Walker said the district will gather data based on school assessments and invite students who are behind.

During a normal summer, the district has a few thousand students in a couple different summer school programs. To increase that number to more than 12,000 students, Walker said a key factor is funding from the state’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund. That money will drastically decrease, or eliminate, the cost of some programs for families, like ones for academic intervention, special education and tutoring. However, other programs, like enrichment and academic programs, will continue to charge fees.

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Walker said transportation will be available for the in-person recovery programs and that more information will be provided to parents and educators in the coming weeks.

This initiative won’t be easy, though, and Martirano said the “massive hurdle” of staffing could be the biggest impediment. He also said he recognizes that many educators are “burned out” from the past year of virtual and now hybrid learning and could be unlikely to want to teach summer school.

“The major piece of this is staffing,” he said. “We’ve set a high target. That’s going to create an incredible need for additional workforce.”

Before the pandemic, the system had some of its own educators work the summer school programs but also pulled from surrounding counties to fill in. This year, Martirano said most other systems are either attempting to ramp up programs or are also likely to see summer staff shortages themselves.

“We need to move swiftly and work creatively to be ahead of the curve in offering meaningful incentives to encourage teachers to participate — both those working in our system and in other counties,” he said. “We have reached out to [the teachers union] for support with this effort.”

Here’s a preliminary list of this year’s summer school offerings:

Academic recovery programs

  • Academic intervention: For elementary and middle school students who are below grade level in reading and/or math; in person and virtual.
  • Innovative pathways: For high school students to catch up on credits; in-person and virtual.
  • Small group tutoring: For elementary and middle school students to provide extra support for students also attending academic intervention; in-person and virtual.

Extended school year (ESY)

  • School-age services: For special education students in all grades who are determined by the district’s Individualized Education Plan team; in-person and virtual.
  • Early intervention services: For children ages 3 through 5 to receive special education services; in person and virtual.

Enrichment

  • Black Student Achievement Program summer institute: For students in kindergarten through ninth grade; in person and virtual.
  • Gifted and Talented summer institute: For G/T elementary and middle school students; in person and virtual.
  • STARTALK Chinese language summer camp: A grant-funded, 14-day program for 90 students in third through eighth grade; in person.

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