Surprise! Students’ ideas for good summer programs don’t include core subjects
Tualatin High School junior Emily Phuong Tran (right) helped set up last week to welcome students back to in-person classes on Monday, April 19. She said the summer would be a chance to help students get used to being students again. “Waiting until the fall to catch up is too late,” Tran said. (Photo by Sue Rieke-Smith, Tigard-Tualatin superintendent)
Jaden Brown struggled this year with distance learning and failed some classes, he said.
The David Douglas High School freshman doesn’t necessarily want to spend his summer making up math lessons, though. He’s a little tired of school, and a church camp will take up a lot of his time.
He would be interested, however, in summer programs at his Portland school if they could help him find a job or prepare for the next school year.
School leaders have generous amounts of state and federal money for summer programming this year, and they are looking for ways to lure students frazzled by too-much computer time and too little teacher time. Give academics a rest, students are telling education leaders, or at least make it relevant.
Months of Zoom classes or intermittent visits with teachers have slowed students’ progress and dulled enthusiasms, but the Oregon Department of Education is avoiding calling students’ falling behind schedule as “learning loss,” instead referring to it as “unfinished learning.” ODE has emphasized that summer programming needs to be about more than class credits and benchmarks.
The state summer learning package offers money for enrichment in grades K-8 but for grades 9-12 it is focused on credit recovery. Schools are still combining fun and learning, though, and the $1.7 billion in federal school aid headed to Oregon allows broad leeway.
“The summer programming should not be intended as something to fix all the gaps throughout this year,” said Emily Phuong Tran, a Tualatin High School junior. “It’s important to put students’ mental health ahead of their test scores.”
Rowan Kelleher, a Tigard High senior, added: “The biggest thing is just getting students back in contact with each other and with teachers in a way we haven’t been able to in the past year.”
Tran and Kelleher are Tigard-Tualatin School Board student representatives and have advised district leaders.
Tran would like to have more social events to help make up for the lost dances, sporting events and traditions that usually bond a class. She said students need to practice atrophied social skills.
Rowan said summer messaging should come from students because many students will be more likely to attend if they hear their peers are planning to be there.
REAP Executive Director Mark Jackson said schools need to help students reacclimate to being in school and to listen to students, especially students of color who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. REAP, a multicultural youth leadership program, is headquartered in Portland and works with schools.
Jackson said COVID-19 has revealed an “underbelly of inequities” and this summer is a chance to begin recovery.
“We have to make sure what is imagined is equitable and be intentional in overly delivering to our students of color,” he said.
To really hear students’ needs, Jackson said, administrators need to ask students about where they want their education to go and what supports they want to get there.
“If you give students a platform, they will respond, and they have some great ideas,” he said.
School leaders should be thinking about culturally responsive services with consideration for the traumas students have suffered this year beyond just the pandemic, Jackson said. He suggested schools might need to reach beyond their usual partners to find organizations that have experience with cultural sensitivities.
Baker School District Auxiliary Program Director Angela Lattin said partnerships were what made her district’s Summer Academy shine, exposing students to a variety of activities and learning experiences.
Baker fifth grader Jayden Hansen is looking forward to a summer of hiking, golfing, skating, sports and other outdoor activities, but he also wants to attend Summer Academy because it’s fun learning.
He especially likes the field trips, which he missed this school year.
His message for school leaders: “More outside stuff.”
Milo Duffey, a David Douglas High School senior, also wants as many activities as he can fit in, especially if they help prepare him for college.
Duffey, who describes himself as Black and White, said working with culturally specific school clubs could help draw in students who often feel left out of summer plans. He also said the student council should be part of the planning.
“Kids know what kids like these days,” he said.
Jorey Brown, a junior and Jaden and Milo’s brother, said sports are his main summer thing, but he would be interested in programming that had a community service aspect.
“It helps me feel better when I get to help people,” he said.
Port Orford-Langlois School District Superintendent Steve Perkins said his small south-coast district has less need for a heavy academic focus because it had in-person learning much of the year, but COVID-19 still left emotional and academic scars. Perkins sees the additional money as providing a summer testing ground.
“You can do some things and actually see what it’s going to look like next fall,” he said.
Some of the federal money doesn’t have to be spent until 2024, and the Tigard-Tualatin School District in the Portland suburbs is using this summer to plan for the future as well. Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said the education environment is fundamentally different and it will take more than one summer to restore students.
Rieke-Smith said the additional funding opens opportunities to try out more of a year-round schedule for all students.
“I finally get an opportunity to do what I know is great for kids in general,” Rieke-Smith said. “It’s a long-term offering to students that will close gaps and heal students.”
The Umatilla School District will be checking its assessment data before and after the summer programs to compare students who attended with those who didn’t, said Superintendent Heidi Sipe, but the summer program goals go beyond what can be measured on a test.
“Some of our students have lost joy in learning, and we want to remind them what it is like to learn for fun,” Sipe said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
April 21: “Schools face exhausted staffs while planning summer help for students”