Summer School Planning: A Strategic Approach to Accelerating Learning

Summer School Planning: A Strategic Approach to Accelerating Learning


Every year, there is talk about the importance of reducing the likelihood of “summer slide,” thought to be the interruption of learning that occurs when students are on their extended break, which is thought to disproportionately affect children from low-income households. Districts plan and offer summer school largely for families who can plug into the rigid schedule they generally offer, and which reflect the availability and willingness of their staff. Traditional reasons for summer school and the designs of the past should be expanded upon. Setting students up for success in the 2022-2023 school year, with a special focus on students who are transitioning into new school levels, should be the goal for this summer.

As planning commences, thinking about summer school may be best understood by a windshield and rearview mirror analogy. There is a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. For students, could it be that where they are headed is more important than where they have been? Their immediate past learning circumstances have led to massive and ongoing efforts in schools to accelerate learning to mitigate the effects of pandemic disruption on students’ academic performance and eliminate the longstanding and now widening achievement gap. Accelerated learning approaches must continue to be in overdrive - fueled by transformative and previously untried strategies - and not paused during summer school. The scenery and experience of summer school must have a new look and feel with a contemporary and compelling purpose: setting up the 2022-2023 school year for success.

Since the times are different, something different must be accomplished. Why use the 2015 paper atlas version of summer school when there are newer maps and tools that can take students on personalized pathways toward success? It takes planners who have the will, courage, and spirit to turn old into new and known challenges into opportunities that deliver a transformative experience. 

Create an Accelerated Roadmap to the 2022-2023 School Year

The Challenge: Schools need help with the more than two-year impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning. The days and the school year are not long enough, and students need support establishing a strong foundation for the next school year, especially in key transition years such as moving from primary to intermediate (second to third grade), intermediate to middle (fifth to sixth grade), and middle to high (eighth to ninth grade). It is not as if students can be retained as a large-scale effort to get them back on track. For example, a rising sixth-grade student is likely to be lacking focus or the prerequisite skills from fourth and fifth grade that are critical for success in sixth. Likewise, rising ninth-grade students need to be confident about their readiness skills as they shift into high school and begin to matriculate credits toward graduation. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research characterizes ninth grade as the “Make It or Break It Year” requiring that everything possible be accomplished to ensure students leave ninth grade having attended school regularly and having successfully completed the required ninth-grade credits. Those who do are more likely to graduate than those who do not. With COVID-19 responses and impacts affecting every year of their middle school experience, this year’s ninth-grade students have not had a normal school year since fifth grade resulting in them being particularly vulnerable to not meeting course standards. 

The Opportunity: We have to create innovative routes to build foundational skills, especially in these challenging transition grades. Using high-dosage tutoring as part of the summer school design is a strategy to ensure students’ readiness for the next grade level. It is incredibly important to be certain students have the readiness skills to make key transitions with confidence. 

For example, third graders are moving from learning to read in K-2 (foundational skills) to reading to learn (navigating more complex texts and academic vocabulary). The foundational skills must be firmly in place for third graders to meet more rigorous reading standards. 

The same is true for sixth graders who must have the opportunity to shore up COVID-19 impacted reading prerequisites from fourth and fifth grade to ensure readiness for sixth. The expectations for strong comprehension skills across multiple content areas demands that students be ready for this transition if they are to have a successful first year of middle school. 

Ninth graders set to take a variety of coursework can be provided tutoring support to ensure that important focus skills intended for learning in middle school are intact. Even beyond summer school, districts can extend high-dosage tutoring into the school year to ensure ninth-grade students have routine support available along a particular course. Unlike the on-demand homework help model, this approach facilitates alignment with instruction in the classroom and uses an interactive approach with a consistent tutor who uses whiteboard tools in a live video and audio setting as students are supported through a course.

Expand the Capacity to Do More

The Challenge: It goes without saying that teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrative staff are exhausted from the roller coaster ride they have been on for two years. In the midst of chaos, they have tried to provide social, emotional, and academic support in revolving door settings as COVID-19 responses and rules evolve. Staffing summer school can be problematic as regular school-based staff prioritizes self-care during the break rather than opt-in to teach a course, program or class. In order for districts to offer a vibrant and meaningful summer with students in grouping and course configurations that truly meet the needs of the students, more staff is needed, not less. 

The Opportunity: Staffing summer school using a flex-time approach may incentivize teachers and paraprofessionals to sign on to supporting students in blocks of time not usually devoted to the delivery of summer school. Willing staff can engage in this support using remote high-dosage delivery of a course or program materials.

Ample staff equates to more offerings with customizable programs within certain courses based on students' needs. By applying flexible time structures, more is possible. Additionally, ample staff can provide the latitude to work with smaller groups of students rather than the average class size offered during summer school, ensuring more personalized support for students preparing for a transition.

Using high-quality, high-dosage services that employ highly trained tutors to augment district staff can also expand the reach of summer school. Tutors, screened through a rigorous process, who have been certified to have the appropriate content background and expertise, received background checks, and have availability for the duration of the program can expand the reach of summer school. By augmenting available school and district staff with remote tutors from outside the district, course content can be offered multiple times during the day with flexible group sizes focused on skill development in a differentiated manner according to students’ needs.

Customize the Time Students and Staff Need

The Challenge: 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. They don’t have the extra cash to buy enrichment opportunities or tutoring to fill the other part of the day when it is not offered nor are childcare facilities equipped to provide half-day coverage or the transportation necessary for participation in summer school. 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. 

Many older students have work responsibilities during break that do not afford them access to a rigid schedule. For many students, 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. 

The Opportunity: Increase the bandwidth of summer school. 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.

Districts can expand the horizons of opportunity by strategically identifying and inviting students to a program built with flexible course and time offerings using remote high-dosage tutoring. Offering remote programs at times convenient for families, staffed with tutors who need and want the same time structures, accomplishes this. One advantage to the flexible course and program schedule is that more district staff may be available to support a non-traditional approach for meeting summer needs. 

Seizing the power of high-dosage tutoring to parallel the efforts of teachers who are leading credit recovery programs should not be missed. A consistent and regularly scheduled tutor available to supplement the teacher’s efforts over the course of the credit recovery program can help ensure successful course completion, further solidifying the path to college and career readiness.

High-Dosage Tutoring Solutions

Removing inflexible structures, thinking and planning creatively about staffing, and delivering a continuum of programs and courses that support the true needs of the community being served is an absolute must for access, opportunity, and equity. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, “Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Embarking on a new summer school journey - one that will map students to a great 2022-2023 school year will assist students in getting where they need to be.

Peter Drucker, a 20th Century management expert and writer said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” A simple, but profound message that supports blazing a new trail to accelerate learning in a setting that connects staff and students in accordance with their schedules, engages students in relevant content and increases the chances students will flourish in the new school year. 

Applying high-leverage designs that include remote high-dosage tutoring makes sense as a strong contender for “something different.” Why not help students look ahead with confidence by using high-dosage tutoring as part of the transformative summer school journey? 

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