DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: School districts speak out on PA House summer school proposal

Digital Exclusive

The COVID 19 pandemic affected education and the way students learn in a major way. 

In response to COVID-19 affecting Pennsylvanians, Governor Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown for schools as a safety measure. He decided to continue with that shutdown as cases steadily climbed, which made for a significant amount of academic time missed. 

The adjustments and issues that districts and students had to face when going fully remote also took away from academic time. The lost learning time from pandemic adjustments led to some nationwide academic trends seen in students even locally. 

“What we’ve seen in our district as well as nationwide, is students struggling in foundational reading skills. Foundational reading skills are often taught to young children in an interactive way with hands on manipulative, and that proves to be more of a challenge in a virtual environment. We’re also seeing trends as far as achievement in reading in math. We’re seeing growth in our students, but that growth is less than years prior when students were face to face,” said Karin Ryan, Director of Teaching and Learning at Erie’s Public Schools.  

Considering education trends and decisions made at the start of the COVID-19 surge, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives announced the possibility of summer school for students  to make up for the missed academic time. Educators sees this as an important decision. 

“Summer school is not going to be a popular choice for a lot of families because they have summer plans and vacations and sports teams, but we need to look at our children, our future. We can’t let this snowball and get out of control,” says Dr. Mary Jo Melvin, Department Chair of Early Childhood and Reading at Edinboro University. 

The Wattsburg Area School District believes any learning opportunities beneficial to their students is important. 

“Regardless of what the PA house does, we think that it’s important to provide some intervention or mediation for our students that need it,” says Ken Berlin, superintendent of the Wattsburg Area School District. 

Although their students have been in the classroom for most of the academic semester, the administration still believes it’s important to make up any previously missed academic time. 

“Even with the opportunity to stay open this year as long as we have, we still fell several months short essentially in the spring. So, I think we feel that we need to make up for that lost time,” says Rebecca Kelley, Assistant to the Superintendent. 

The district prepared a summer program months in advance of the announcement by the PA house.  This is a five-week program that will begin shortly after the school year ends to still allow time for summer activities. 

“We know as educators, the foundational skills that our students need to have in order to excel at the next level. So, we’re really hoping to focus on those core skills when our students come to us,” says Kelley. 

The Erie School District is still working on planning and options when it comes to extended learning, wanting any programming decisions made to be as effective as possible. 

“As we’re considering summer programing and extended year programming through next school year, we’re also considering ‘what are those things that kids have really missed’ that we might partner with academic programming to really have kids be excited about the opportunity to be in school whether its longer or differently,” says Ryan. 

As the pandemic continues, there are also worries associated with the possibility of summer learning.  

Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of General McLane School District is worried about the effectiveness of summer learning during the pandemic. Scaletta sees that the pandemic causes a major distraction to the learning environment. 

“It could be an effective tool that we can use, but I think we also have to keep in mind that if all the conditions are still in place – masking, social distancing – which led to some of the anxiety and fatigue that has transferred into learning, I don’t think it would be as effective as we want it to be,” says Scaletta. 

As districts are working on their plans, they’re giving parents options and a chance to weigh in with decision making. 

“One thing that we’re really proud of right now is that we’re creating a survey to get feedback from parents about what they believe will benefit their students most,” says Ryan. 

“Being able to partner with parents really is our goal. We can’t do this without them to help make their students available and able to come in and take advantage of the program,” says Kelley. 

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