SCCS officials plan strategies to close the COVID learning gap

SWARTZ CREEK — Summer school, a seven-period school day and increased intervention and support services are under consideration as administrators and elected officials craft a strategy for closing the learning gap brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comprehensive, eight-week summer school program will be available for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, said Superintendent Ben Mainka.

Food and transportation will be provided, and there is a possibility that before- and after-school care could be offered, as well.

The goal is to provide in-person, project-based learning experiences in a fun program focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Slots will be available for students who need the added support, as well as those seeking enrichment.

For high school students, district officials are coordinating with the Genesee Intermediate School District to provide a virtual credit recovery summer school program.

The seven-period school day also will give students an opportunity to make up some lost credits, although it has sparked concerns.

Brendan Johnson, the student liaison to the board of education, said several classmates have approached him “showing discontent for the potential of a mandatory seven-hour workday.”

The concerns include how the schedule will affect the students who attend the Genesee Career Institute, and those in dual enrollment. The additional class could put additional pressure on students across the board, he said.

“How will kids who are currently struggling with six classes be expected to maintain seven?” Johnson said, relaying the questions that students posed to him. “Shorter classes will be harder for (advanced placement) students because they need all the time they can get in those classes.”

Mainka said the administration is considering instituting the seven, 50-minute classes as a pilot program for the 2021-22 school year.

“It doesn’t change the begin or end time,” Mainka said. “It changes the hourly schedule. We had 50-minute periods this year; it would be the same for next year. I’m not saying the seven-period day is so superior, but it has some benefits.”

Counselors will work very hard at matching students to the course work, and grouping courses, he said. Courses are currently grouped into Tier 1, the more rigorous classes, and Tier 2, which are more enrichment-based and less homework-intensive.

Educators also will be able to explore a “fully experiential Tier 3,” which would include support classes for students who may need a little extra intervention, Mainka said.

“All those things are going to be very important for our students who are struggling,” he said. “It’s a worthwhile innovation to look at.”

Mainka acknowledged that the potential for additional stress does exist. In fact, administrators have spoken “extensively” about providing additional support services for students struggling with issues such as social and emotional learning, fractured friendships, anxiety, depression and loss of motivation.