Summer Success Strategy #3: Avoid Inequities by Meeting All Students Where They Are

Summer Success Strategy #3: Avoid Inequities by Meeting All Students Where They Are


Janet Wilson, the former Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools for Montgomery County, MD, and current SVP of District Solution at Littera Education outlined three key problems facing schools as they plan for the summer and provided a detailed solution to each in her Summer Success Strategies series. This is the third of three installments–the first can be found here, and the second here!  

Many districts have engaging, well-designed summer school programs that fall into four main categories, which I’ve outlined below. While these programs aim to meet the needs of each student, not every learner fits neatly into one bucket over another, and many students go the length of summer with no academic support at all.

In recent conversations with district administrators, I hear that districts are looking for ways to both provide students a fun and engaging experience, and shore up academic learning skills. Providing fun and engaging experiences is the easy part; planning for the personalized learning participants is more challenging if it’s to be a meaningful experience at a time when large learning gaps persist.

Typical summer school program offerings include: 

  • Enrichment Programs: From martial arts to music to cooking, these are often paid for by parents, facilitated by district staff, and optional for parents.  
  • Transition Programs: For rising Kindergarteners, middle schoolers, and high schoolers, these in-person sessions help ease the transition to the next school.
  • Extended School Year Programs: This in-person summer school is for students receiving extra support as part of their individualized education plan/special education services.
  • Learning Recovery Programs: Assigned by the teacher for students who need targeted help with math and/or reading. 

The Challenge: Avoid Exacerbating Inequities–Find a Way for Summer School to Meet All Students’ Needs

Summer school can inadvertently create inequities because not all students can plug into summer school opportunities either because of other responsibilities, or because the summer school schedule is not conducive to the needs of a family.  For example, the program is operated on a half-day schedule, but some families need a full-day schedule due to the inability to access childcare on a half-day basis. For families of elementary-age children, coverage for partial summer school days creates logistical and financial burdens on families whose work schedules do not change just because the school year has ended. Understandably, families must prioritize consistent childcare, consequently reducing the likelihood that they can participate in a fixed partial-day schedule. Often these circumstances affect the most vulnerable students who really need the acceleration from a summer boost. 

“For families of elementary-age children, coverage for partial summer school days creates logistical and financial burdens on families whose work schedules do not change just because the school year has ended.”

Many older students have work responsibilities during the break that do not afford them access to a rigid schedule. They are helping to support the financial needs of their families during those months. The confinement of a brick-and-mortar in-person program in a learning environment a distance from home does not equitably meet the needs of all students. 

Additionally, administrators are grappling with finding the bandwidth to prepare for summer school, let alone staff it. Other more immediate priorities make it nearly impossible to devote time to plan a robust summer school and staffing remains a challenge. The ability to implement high-quality and state-standards-aligned curriculum in a targeted way is a massive lift for schools.

The Opportunity: Diversify Academic Support through Flexible Scheduling & Virtual High-Impact Tutoring

Families of young children and older students need courses and support offered at non-traditional times, such as early morning or late afternoon, early evening, or perhaps even on a weekend. As a result, more districts are entertaining virtual learning to diversify and intensify the approach to summer school with the aim of reaching more students where they are--academically and geographically.  

Districts are using these models to reach more students with academic support: 

1. Add virtual tutoring to existing summer programs

Strategically group students who are attending in-person summer opportunities–e.g., 8th graders attending a transition-focused summer school who need extra help with Algebra. They can access pre-scheduled virtual tutoring from campus before, during or after summer school. 

2. Provide parents of students identified as at-risk with the option for remote tutoring 

One district is offering 9th graders optional math tutoring over the summer; these students would not otherwise attend an in-person summer program, but can now enter Algebra more confident and prepared to succeed.  

3. Support credit recovery over the summer

Seizing the power of high-impact tutoring to amplify the efforts of teachers who are leading credit recovery programs should not be missed. Equitable access to support is a must. A consistent and regularly scheduled tutor to supplement the teacher’s efforts over the course of the credit recovery program, whether onsite or offsite, can help ensure successful course completion, further solidifying the path to college and career readiness for every student. If a student has struggled repeatedly on a particular high school course, perhaps it’s time to provide them with an accountability partner (i.e., a a tutor) to raise the likelihood of success.

Providing targeted and meaningful small-group learning experiences for students of all ages during the summer months is key to meeting students where they are academically. And the care and attention of an adult whether virtual or in-person will make a world of difference in the eyes of a student.

Curious to learn how other districts are providing virtual high-impact tutoring this summer? Reach out and we’ll be happy to share. 

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