SWARTZ CREEK — Educators and administrators are working on the details of an expanded summer school program designed to support students who have fallen behind due to COVID-19.
“We’re not where we want to be,” said Superintendent Ben Mainka. “We know a lot of our kids have missed contact time with their teachers, they’ve missed school from the pause. So, we have to talk about expanding our school year. I’m not saying it’s needed for all students, but we need to discuss what this (board of education) feels is important for the kids who have not been able to keep up during the pandemic.”
Preliminary plans focus on a STEM-based enrichment program for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. High school students are not included in the summer school program because they have other avenues for making up lost credits, Mainka said.
Mainka said he expects 300 to 500 students to be enrolled. Many have opted for the online modality, but have not kept up with their classwork, he said.
“Where we find gaps that are the most difficult to address is with the online student who is not engaging,” he said. “We’re failing the kids who’ve chosen online and have been vastly unsuccessful.”
It’s now incumbent upon the district, and parents, to return those students to a face-to-face classroom setting.
“The consensus is, if they’ve struggled virtually, they’ll struggle virtually in the summer,” Mainka said. “A lot of parents have struggled online and kind of thrown their hands up.”
Board of Education Vice President Brian Sepanak agreed that there is a critical need to provide intervention for those students.
“I think, once that gap starts developing, they get to a place of no return,” he said. “With this program, they’ll have an opportunity to get back to where they need to be and be successful in what they’re doing.”
The district has offered a six-week, STEM-focused summer camp in the past, and it has been well received and very successful. Offering open enrollment, the camp has attracted some 50 to 100 students each time.
“This year is different,” Mainka said. “We need a more broad-based academic recovery program and intervention. We need additional summer support this year.”
So far, the plan involves offering math and literacy in the mornings, and STEM activities in the afternoons.
“We want to be engaging, fun and integrative,” Mainka said. “We don’t want summer school to be a drag. We want it to be a place where people have fun, which is what we want school every day to be. But we don’t want (summer school) to look like school looks the rest of the year.”
One of the major variables under consideration is staffing. The district will need teachers, paraprofessionals, coordinators, bus drivers, and food service workers to take on the added workload.
For the first time, the district hopes to offer transportation to summer school sites. Breakfast and lunch also will be provided to the students.
Funding for the expanded summer program is expected to come from a federal grant. Preliminary cost estimates are in excess of $300,000, Mainka said.
“This is not going to be a small endeavor,” he said.
How the federal funds will be distributed remains undetermined, but summer programs that address the learning gap are a priority.
“If we don’t get the funding, what did we save on blending elementary schools?” asked board Trustee Chuck Melki. “It was $300,000 to $500,000, right? If we have to spend the district’s money … it’s their money … I believe we have to spend it (on closing the gap).
“We have to get the kids back up. If we can get the staff, we have the buildings, the buses … and the food is a no-brainer. Let’s make it happen.”