School Must Go On Throughout 2021

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

As we near the end of the first full school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, districts around the country are making decisions about the near future. That includes the availability of summer school classes and altering schedules to help students catch up on lost time and progress.

The Importance of Summer School

In the best of years, summer school serves as a resource for helping struggling students. Many classes are smaller than during the school year, which research has shown helps students learn more.

Smaller classes mean more individual attention, which can help close the learning gap for students struggling academically. With fewer resources in the face of the pandemic, many Black and Hispanic students have fallen even further behind, and summer school will prove more crucial than ever before.

For many families, summer school will also provide some level of normalcy, particularly for parents who’ve been juggling concerns including lack of work, finding childcare, shifting work conditions, at-home learning, and more for over a year.

As it relates to STEM learning, hands-on activities and in-person collaboration are crucial. STEM learning directly correlates to the type of work scientists and engineers do every day. Since the necessity of remote and blended learning, students have not had access to the full range of STEM education needed. Summer school can help bring these crucial lessons back into the equation.

Money is Available for Schools

Tens of billions of dollars are still available from the two emergency relief packages passed by the government. Schools should be tapping into these funds to do what they can now to help the students who need it most. 

The time is now to be innovative and creative. The first problem to address is identifying which kids need summer school most. With a lack of assessments and the relaxing of grading over the last year, it may be challenging to identify pockets of students needing help. In remote and blended learning environments, teachers do their best to identify students who have demonstrated challenges with grasping concepts and/or are disengaged from the learning process. Teachers must do their best to make themselves available to address concerns, and if summer school is an available option, stress the importance of participating to parents.

Next is dealing with the shortage of teachers, particularly in STEM subjects. Many teachers opt not to teach summer school, and many school districts are experiencing shortages with certified STEM teacher pools. Whether it be offering extra incentives, recruiting teachers from other states, sharing teachers between schools/districts, or providing aids to support teachers with heavier loads, school districts must find a way to make summer school possible.

Hunger Increases in the Summer

Though the government has offered assistance with food for struggling families during the pandemic, it doesn’t measure up. Many payments were months late, families are still in food lines and are still not getting the benefits they received from free or reduced school lunch programs.

Hunger is often a much bigger problem for economically challenged families in the summer, as their children get most of their meals at school. Kids who don’t have enough to eat suffer at school, lacking focus. In fact, they are much more likely to repeat a grade.

With increased federal funding being made available, summer school with revived lunch programs can be a game-changer for underserved students. They will receive needed nutrition and support with achieving learning goals.

All Are Affected, All Need to be Flexible

We’ve already seen announcements of plans to start the 2021-22 school year receiving poor reception. Teachers are, in some cases, actively speaking out against these types of arrangements. I’m sure some of their concerns are valid, where the situation involves poor communication, failure to include input from teachers, or some other factor. However, the benefit of going back earlier in the fall is undeniable.

The pandemic has forced most of us to work differently and all of us to live differently. It is inconvenient for parents, teachers, and students alike to begin the school year early. However, the effects of not catching up are far worse. As a result of circumstances beyond our control, students affected by the pandemic could be trying to catch up for years to come.

We must all do what we can to support summer school and provide students the catch-up time needed. It is essential to the future of every young person in America right now, particularly those with the most limited resources. Our efforts now will result in a bright STEM workforce full of faces of all colors, with brilliant minds from all kinds of backgrounds, each given a reasonable chance to succeed.