South-Western City School District expanding summer extended-learning program

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

The South-Western School District will provide an expanded slate of extended learning opportunities for students over the summer and beyond.

The term "extended learning opportunities" is intentional "because we tend to call this summer school," said Brian Bowser, the district's executive director of elementary education. "But this will look into the fall and into next school year, as well."

Brian Bowser

The past 12 months in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been challenging, and the planning that's underway looks to provide students extended learning opportunities "as we look forward to more normal times," he said.

Bowser presented an overview of the plan to the school board March 8.

The extended-learning plan can be divided into three different buckets – June 2021, just after the current school year begins; August 2021, just ahead of the new school year; and then looking forward to the fall "and what could be possible for our students," he said.

More:South-Western City School District not yet ready for all-in return to school

The June 2021 program for students in grades K-6 is being called "the wide net," Bowser said.

"We're going to try to reach as many students as we possibly can and extend that time past the June 4th end of the school year," he said.

The K-6 program will be from June 14 to 30 and will offer virtual instruction, Bowser said. In past years, the only summer program for elementary and intermediate grades was a reading-intervention program offered for students exiting third grade who still needed to meet the state's third-grade reading standard, he said.

The pandemic year has been challenging for students, Bowser said.

"We want to maximize contact and continue learning over the summer for as many students as we possibly can," Bowser said.

The goal will be a 16-1 student-to-teacher ratio, he said, which is smaller than in a normal classroom setting.

South-Western's average class size across the district is about 26 students, Bowser said.

The online classes students take in June will last about 2 ½ hours each day and will offer large-group, small-group and independent-work opportunities, he said.

The emphasis will be on math skills for upper grades, Bowser said.

"For lower grades, we will take a broad look at literacy and math (data) to make a better determination of what those groups need," he said.

South-Western will be able to use the data from the iReady online reading and math assessment platform to help shape the June instructional program for younger students, Superintendent Bill Wise said.

The goal will be to serve about 900 students in grades K-6 in the "wide net" virtual opportunity, Bowser said.

The program for high school students will run from June 7 to July 30. 

Students will have an opportunity for credit-recovery opportunities and might be able to pick up some first-time credits, including physical education, health and government, Bowser said.

"This will be an asynchronous opportunity because we know families and our students will have lots of things happening over the summer," he said.

The high school summer classes will use the Virtual Learning Academy platform the district has been using for families who have chosen to have their students remain engaged in remote learning throughout the current school year, Bowser said.

Teachers will provide Google Meet opportunities and office hours to connect with students, he said.

Students will be able to take up to two credits, with no cost for seniors, Bowser said. Underclassmen will be charged a reduced fee of $75.

Because the high school summer program has a fee and is credit bearing, an action item will be presented at the March 22 school board meeting for approval, Wise said.

Students and their families will receive invitations to participate in the June 2021 sessions in early May, Bowser said.

The June bucket is not in lieu of other learning opportunities offered by the district, he said. Those opportunities, including English Learner students in grades K-4 practicing language and literacy skills and extended-school-year and specialized instruction for students with special needs, will continue to be offered, Bowser said.

The program offered for students in grades K-8 in August will switch to a "back-to-school mindset," he said. 

"The August 'boot camp' is really more about intensive instruction, face to face, on a regular basis," Wise said.

The sessions will be in-person and will be offered Aug. 9-20, Bowser said. Small groups will be targeted, with five students for every teacher, he said. 

As with the June program, the August focus likely will be math for the middle grades and to be determined for lower grades based on students' needs, Bowser said.

"We may want to focus on students who have chosen a virtual opportunity all year to help get them reacclimated to the building," he said. "That could look different at different sites."

The plan for the fall still is to be determined, "but we know we will be allocating resources to each building to promote after-school and extended learning opportunities or tutoring," Bowser said. "It could look different in different places."

The district is planning to place guidance counselors in its intermediate schools for the new school year, Wise said.

"It's not something we've had for several years," he said. "Many of our students have struggled through the pandemic, and this is an area where we could beef up our services to a certain extent and be helpful."

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