Support Intelligent, In-Depth, Trustworthy Journalism.
Summer is here, but the disruptions caused by the pandemic are affecting summer plans of some students and teachers. Educators around the country are scrambling to help students catch up. Many are utilizing billions in federal stimulus funds to beef up their summer school programs. Stephanie Sy reports from Atlanta.
Summer is clearly here, but the disruptions caused by the pandemic are affecting the summer plans of some students and teachers.
Educators around the country are scrambling to help students catch up. Many are utilizing billions in federal stimulus funds to beef up their summer school programs.
Stephanie Sy visited two Atlanta area school districts to see their approach toward helping for middle schoolers.
All right, have a good day, love you.
It's 8:00 on a mid-June morning, and instead of enjoying summer break, 12-year-old Christopher Jones is headed to school.
Christopher was an A/B student, honor roll student, before the pandemic. And when the pandemic came, his grades dropped B, C, D.
Like other schools, John Lewis Invictus Academy, where Christopher goes, shut its doors in March of 2020. When it reopened earlier this year, 80 percent of its 950 students chose to stay virtual, but not Christopher. Home was not exactly conducive to learning.
My gosh, it was hard, while I'm on Zoom, my mom cussing out my brother.
My dog is barking. So, my teacher is always telling me to mute myself.
I am who I am, not who you think I am.
To address these challenges, educators are now pouring millions of dollars of federal stimulus funds into rigorous summer programs to try and catch kids up, says Atlanta superintendent Lisa Herring.
The core business of our school system and school systems across the county is teaching and learning. It was disrupted. We have a responsibility to do something immediately for our children.
Who's the main character?
What that means in Atlanta Public Schools is a full-day 9:00-4:00 summer school that principal Ramon Garner says homes in on the basics.
The really big difference for this summer academic recovery is that it is focused on math and English, 90 minutes each content area. So, this is a total of three hours that kids are getting specifically in those content areas.
Watching her son lose ground is what worries Moneisha White, a single parent who works the night shift as a lab technician.
With the pandemic, I see a lot of stigmas put on low-income kids, that they're not learning.
You don't want him…
No, I don't.
… to become a statistic like that.
Here in Atlanta and across the country, students of color were hit harder by the pandemic than their white counterparts. A McKinsey & Company study found that all students might be nine months behind in math, but that Black and Hispanic students could be as far as a year behind.
This is a high-poverty area. Our school is a Title I school, 100 percent free and reduced lunch, single-payer households. And so home life for some of our students can be very, very challenging.
Lunch, friends. Here you go.
The summer program provides food, breakfast, lunch, weekend meals to take home on Fridays, and snacks.
After you put your sugar in it, shake, shake, shake.
Hands-on afternoon sessions, such as the science of ice cream making and flag football, are meant to acclimate students back after a year-and-a-half of social distancing.
For many tweens, middle school is fraught with academic and social challenges that the pandemic made harder.
They're growing, they're going through puberty, so their bodies are changing. And, oh, my gosh, they're very awkward at that age.
A big part of middle school is the social aspect, being able to be in the classroom with students, being able to see your friends, being able to eat lunch every day, things that in the past we have taken for granted.
The amount of learning loss during the pandemic is still difficult to pin down. Standardized tests were canceled last year, then reinstated when many students were still doing virtual learning, making the assessments unreliable.
We know that our kids need us more now after this event than ever before.
But chief academic officer Cliff Jones in Atlanta's Fulton County School District has received some troubling data through a partnership with Georgia State University.
Typically, in a 9.5-month school year, our kids made 9.5 months of growth or more. What we saw during the pandemic was that they made 5.3 months in literacy and 7.2 months in math.
A rising eighth grader at Sandy Springs Middle School, Harmonee Jackson is having to attend summer school for the first time.
Before the pandemic forced school online, she regularly got 90s out of 100 on her math tests.
I know it's going to be hard to ask this, but what was your lowest score during the pandemic, during virtual?
It might have been a 50.
How did it feel to get the 50?
It was really shocking, because I know I have always been super good at it. And then, suddenly, you're seeing these low scores, and you're like, what happened?
Principal Laurie Woodruff wants it to feel like camp. That means literature discussions in an outside courtyard, a scavenger hunt to teach the Pythagorean theorem, and building a roller coaster to demonstrate basic physics.
No child wants to be in summer school, right?
So, we have tried to make it a very welcoming place, that they want to be here.
Being in the classroom is the best.
Do you feel like you're starting to regain the confidence?
I really am. I'm already starting to get the 90s back that I used to start getting.
To help students like Harmonee, Fulton County doubled the number of schools offering summer classes, expanded course options, and opened the program to all students. But finding enough teachers was a challenge, even after $1,000 bonuses were offered.
Our teachers, quite honestly, are exhausted. I could have probably put about 30 more kids in summer school had I had more teachers.
Summer school is just one tool in bringing kids up to grade level. Research shows that more time in the classroom during the regular year and specialized tutoring programs also help.
Both school districts have no illusions that a few weeks in the summer alone can combat the COVID slide.
Because our belief is not that everything will be resolved at the end of June 2021.
We know that we have to have a long-term perspective on our plan moving forward. This can't be made up in one year.
Both Atlanta Public and Fulton County districts have three-year plans to get students back up to speed. Summer programs are voluntary, unlike regular school, and registration fell short of district goals, meaning many students will lag behind in the fall.
But, for some, like Harmonee, there are signs of progress.
I'm so happy that the excitement is back on her face. I definitely know, without the summer school program, she would not be prepared as a rising eighth grader.
When I see the faces get off the school buses every day, I see those kids smiling, and they're coming back every day, because they could very well not come. But they show up.
And, now that the pandemic is easing, schools are trying to show up for them.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Atlanta.
Watch the Full Episode
Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
Support Provided By:
Support PBS NewsHour:
Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Additional Support Provided By: