Jun 25 2020

How K–12 Schools Are Doing Summer School Virtually

In the era of social distancing, many districts adopted alternative methods to best accommodate learning for students during the summer.

The school year has come to an end, but many districts are still continuing remote learning this summer.

In Seattle Public Schools, all students will have access to online courses so they can stay engaged in learning before the fall. The virtual summer program they offer covers a range of subjects from math and language arts to social-emotional learning.

“It was important in our planning that all students have learning opportunities, so we can provide needed consistency and predictability,” Superintendent Denise Juneau tells KOMO News.

Traditionally, summer schools give districts the opportunity to help students catch up or get ahead in their schoolwork. But the coronavirus pandemic showed how crucial these programs are today as experts predict steep learning losses due to last spring’s mandatory school closures. It also changed how districts conduct summer school programs this year, offering a glimpse of what they might look like in the future.

DISCOVER: Learn how districts continue remote learning for students without internet.

Summer School in the Era of COVID-19

With social distancing guidelines still in place, many districts adopted alternative methods, such as full-on digital classes, to best accommodate students taking summer school.

According to a recent EdWeek Research Center survey of 446 district leaders, 79 percent said they are providing summer learning only online. Of those surveyed, 51 percent said they are requiring summer school only for students who are behind academically.

Yet experts from The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a nonpartisan education research center, say that this summer is still a missed opportunity for many districts. They recently conducted a survey that found most districts are taking a traditional approach to summer school rather than innovating.

Districts had the chance to “implement different, better learning environments this summer in preparation for the fall, or to address the impact of critical learning time students may have lost in the spring,” the researchers tell EdSource.

Some districts decided to limit summer school programs to students who need them most, such as students from low-income families or those who have individualized education plans that require year-round services. Meanwhile, other districts are unable to continue programming because of budget constraints and remaining health concerns.

To Continue Summer Learning, Districts Get Creative

But there are various ways districts are delivering summer school virtually. Some started programs similar to what remote learning looked like last spring — setting up Google classrooms and holding Zoom chats — while others took a fresh approach.

Jefferson County (Ky.) Public Schools launched a six-week online summer program in mid-June that resembles a video game, WFPL reports. “We’re really trying to think about the appeal of digital gaming, and how we can give this that same appeal,” says Carmen Coleman, the district’s chief academic officer.

The program, called Summer League, is available to students in grades 1 through 12. Participants can access the platform on the district’s Google site, create their own avatar and complete learning activities to earn points, badges and other prizes.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest school district in the country — worked with industry partners to roll out a self-paced summer enrichment program that features activities like online music classes with Fender Guitar and a virtual astronomy and space technology course with Columbia Memorial Space Center, according to EdSource.

There are also districts taking on a blended summer school program. In DeKalb County (Ga.) School District, administrators plan on having eight days of face-to-face instruction and two days of virtual instruction for students, according to CRPE.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how IT teams can ramp up remote learning programs.

Key Considerations for Moving Summer School Online

But moving summer school online is no easy task, especially for districts doing it for the first time amid a pandemic. In a webinar hosted by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), experts shared a few things administrators and educators must keep in mind when facilitating summer learning online.

Kirsten Peterson, an online learning experience designer and program manager at Education Development Center, a global nonprofit organization based in Waltham, Mass., emphasized the importance of communicating with students from a distance.

Peterson said that although technology is essential to online learning, facilitators need to remember that they are still the most critical element. “You still need to connect with your students and help them connect with each other,” she said.

She also suggested establishing patterns for how, when and where teachers will communicate with students, parents and other staff members, and creating a solid communication plan that uses a “variety of vehicles” such as a website, email or opt-in text messages.

Meanwhile, Zoe Baptista, an online learning designer at Brandeis University, spoke about technology best practices for teaching and training for online summer school. Districts should keep things simple and focus on selecting three key technology platforms: an online meeting software like Zoom or Adobe Connect, a learning management system and a group communication platform. It’s also important to ensure equity online and to make digital materials responsive, she said.

Watch how educators can make digital content accessible to all students.

Keeping students motivated and engaged during remote learning — especially in the summer — is also easier said than done. But Dan Tieu, director of marketing for Khan Academy, showed that it’s possible.

For example, he advised teachers to provide feedback to their students, which they can do through digital surveys or one-on-one check-ins. “One of the key components of motivation is understanding purpose,” he said. “Feedback is an opportunity to reinforce the work that they’re doing and its purpose.”

Tieu said that recognizing students’ milestones is also crucial. “Try to celebrate either through a recorded video or virtual certificate — something to acknowledge the achievements of students as they progress through the process,” he said.

Educators also need to recognize the emotional impact of the world’s current situation on students, Tieu said. He suggested providing students an opportunity to write and reflect on remote learning and their experience with it, especially if they’ve been doing it since March. They can use tools such as Google Docs so they can also leave supportive comments on their peers’ reflections.

“It’s a lot to take at once. Not only are you transitioning with a subject you’re trying to teach in this moment, but you’re also adapting it to a different learning environment,” Tieu said. “We’re all learning this, and it’s not business as usual for anyone.”

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