Local school systems plan ‘fun’ and ‘intensive’ summer camps for students facing learning loss during pandemic

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) — Summer school program plans are in the works to combat learning loss in the region. After the COVID-19 pandemic left students learning virtually rather than in the classroom, often for months at a time, school districts are noticing several students falling behind on critical reading and math skills.

In Tennessee, all school districts are required by law to offer summer learning loss programs in the coming years. Virginia does not have the same requirement, but many school districts are still planning summer programs in an effort to help students get caught up.

“I think it would be easy to get folks to agree with me when I say that summer school is terrible. Nobody gets excited, ‘Alright, I get to go to summer school this year!'” said Bristol Virginia Public Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan.

But Perrigan says there’s a need for summer learning in wake of students having fewer in-person learning hours during the pandemic. The school system will offer a brand-new, outer-space-themed summer camp. It’s a 2-month program for K-12 students with a heavy emphasis on STEM skills.

“We can’t in good conscience promote a second grader to third grade if they don’t have the skillset that will enable them to be successful. And so that’s why we really want to have a very intensive summer-long 8 to 5 program,” he said.

Perrigan said the camp is designed to be an environment students want to come to. A trip to the Kennedy Space Center is even planned for middle and high school students who successfully complete the camp.

Teachers who work for the camp during the summer will be paid $45 hour, and instructional aides will receive $20-25 an hour.

“It goes without saying that our teachers are worn out. So we knew that in order to get them to be motivated to work again through another summer with our students that we had to develop a pay structure that would accommodate that,” Perrigan said.

In Tennessee, schools are required to offer Summer Learning Camps for students entering grades 1-5, and Learning Loss Bridge Camps for 6-8 grade students. Students are not required to participate.

Elizabethton City Schools will offer four-week programs this June. Myra Newman, assistant director of schools for academics, said the system will be able to serve around 250 elementary school and 170 middle school students through the camps.

“We’ve had less in-person days than we’ve had in a normal school year which has reduced our direct instruction with students, which has caused some of that learning gap,” said Newman.

Four hours of reading and math instruction are required each day, plus one hour of intervention and one hour of physical activity or play. STREAM activities (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Music) will be incorporated into the elementary school camp.

Newman says the school system is working to identify the students most in need of additional summer learning.

“We’re targeting students through our assessments and through our instruction this year that we’ve been able to identify that have a significant loss. Those are students that are targeting first. It’s optional if they attend, so if they decide not to attend, then it will be open enrollment,” she said.

Both Tennessee and Virginia will pay for summer learning programs with federal CARES Act funding.

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