The Merced City School District (MCSD) has designed a more intensive summer school experience this year than last year, and also thought of other ways to support student learning during the summer.
The reason why MCSD administrators and staff are working so hard on summer programs is to help students recover from academic learning loss that has occurred due to the pandemic, and from the loss in social-emotional learning from being home instead of with their peer group at school.
Doug Collins, Deputy Superintendent of MCSD, told the Times, “Typically, our summer school is four or five weeks long. This summer, parents can sign up their children for either one four-week session or two four-week sessions.
“We have four schools that are doing in-person summer school: Chenoweth, Fremont, Rivera Elementary and Sheehy. Just for this summer, Distance Learning is being offered at Hoover Middle School.
“We have a summer school preschool at Clark Preschool.
“It’s five days a week this summer, which is a little bit more than last summer.
“Last year, summer school enrollment was around 1,000 students, and this year, we registered approximately 2,000 students. We have seen a little bit of drop in the second session after the Fourth of July holiday, but we’re still excited that it’s a longer summer school for more opportunity for kids.
“The kids are attending summer school five hours a day; last year was four hours.
“Usually in summer school, we do a lot of enrichment, like more fun things and more engagement, preparing for the next school year.
“This summer, however, we taught content and standards of the last grade they were in, and we focused on Reading and Math. The strategy is a little different.
“Teachers are doing pre and post evaluations of the students to see the impact summer school made.
“In terms of engaging the students, when we were doing recruiting for summer school, the administrators were trying to reach out to students who might not have been as engaged last school year due to the pandemic, and we’ve seen some re-engagement, but it’s been quite a battle.
“Separate from our summer school, we did an enrichment program for sixth to eighth grade, and about 200 signed up. There was a free coding class, and the students learned how to create their own video games, and we’re going to consider continuing it as an enrichment program with an after-school focus. It had a lot of positive reviews.
“Every student in our district got a backpack with books and workbooks which were grade level appropriate to continue to learn over the summer.
“The backpacks are an engagement opportunity where students could win gift baskets and other rewards for completing weekly activities found in the backpacks.
“We’ve started community learning hubs with set hours such as 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at places like the Merced Mall, Restorative Justice League, Sheehy School library, and the Boys & Girls Club. We staff these learning hubs so kids can get support with summer school work, with the workbooks and materials they were given in their backpack, and with any other type of academic, mentoring or support connected with school. With some of the pandemic funding we’ve received, we can continue these opportunities during the school year, so kids can access hub locations where adults can help and support them.
“We’re working toward building a tutoring and mentoring program that we’re looking to start this year and grow.
“We’re excited about August because we know all the students will be coming back to in-person school and we can engage with them and meet their social-emotional needs. We’re adding a full-time counselor at every school site.”
Chenoweth Summer Academy teacher Guadalupe Hernandez told the Times, “I’m teaching seventh graders this summer.
“I’m teaching all the subjects, and in the morning, strategies to process the emotions of anger and anxiety prevalent in the pandemic so that they can implement these strategies instead of acting out.
“Some of the students haven’t been to school in a year-and-a-half. Some students needed to put in more practice than they did, and it’s a challenge helping the students catch up.
“For the most part, it’s Math that the kids need more assistance with, and what they need is reinforcement on concepts like algebra, fractions and ratios. The lessons are working. We started with multiplication, division and factors, and now we’ve progressed to algebra. Because the summer school class size is 22 students at the maximum, it’s working a lot better than had it been 34 students, our usual maximum cap during the school year.
“When we do our social/emotional learning, we share about our lives, and the kids love to share. When they first came to class, they were very shy, but it helps being back in person and just talking to another human being and now the kids are pretty talkative. We went to the library to check out books, and a student picked out a book, Stick Dog Gets the Taco, and that led to a conversation in the library with all the students about tacos and where to eat tacos in Merced. Everyone was sharing and learning from each other. I love that we can do the whole social aspect now. It’s important to get the students back into the swing of things before we go back to school officially in August.”
Christina Polzine, another Chenoweth Summer Academy teacher, told the Times, “I’m teaching second grade in summer school. I’m a regular second grade teacher at Chenoweth, and I have some of my second graders in my summer school class.
“The kids love being at school. Where in the past they liked school, now, because they missed their friends and their teachers, they are really excited to be in school. The day the partitions came down between the desks, they were cheering. It made me happy to see how happy they were.
“In summer school, we’re with our students for 5-1/2 hours whereas in Distance Learning, we were only together for 3 hours. It’s so nice having the time to do much more with them, such as science experiments and art that they weren’t able to do when they were learning online. They also love P. E. outside.
“The kids can do a lot more education-wise in summer school than they could in Distance Learning. They can learn faster because I don’t have the challenge of teaching them over a screen. I can really check their understandings better in person. On a screen, I couldn’t always see their responses.
“Another big difference is better learning through the interaction with their peers and teacher in person. I am very excited to have so many students back in person and share their excitement in being back in school. At the end of the day, students seem disappointed that it’s time to go home because they’re really enjoying each other and being back in school.”
Ursula Pereira, the parents of three summer school students, told the Times, “I am the parent of a preschooler, Ava Pereira, a second grader, Jake Pereira, and a fourth grader, Hank Pereira.
“Summer school has been great. My kids love going to school because they’ve missed the interaction with teachers and fellow students. They are grasping so much from this experience that they missed out on for the past year.
“The academics are great. For example, my second grader talks about what he’s learned in Math when he comes home from school, and he is really enjoying the experience.
“My fourth grader was getting all 4.0’s and he went down to 2.0’s in the pandemic and that’s not like him. Parents can’t do what teachers can do, in my opinion. He has improved greatly in the academic area just by going to summer school.”