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Usable Knowledge

Bridging the Gaps

How educators, organizations, and communities can work within current guidelines to provide enriching summer learning opportunities for students
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Delivering high-quality summer learning and enrichment opportunities for students has never seemed more critical — but how can it happen, as the coronavirus crisis continues to play out? School closures have altered the learning landscape this spring, leading to fears of unprecedented learning lossHigh school and college students, too, find themselves at home without summer employment or internshipsHowever, the summer has always provided a space to innovate and to offer students additional support — promising partnerships and resources may allow this summer to continue to do so.

A little bit of imagination may be necessary to help summer programming comply with guidelines and best practices. To reimagine the summer learning space for current times, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has formed a task force with 25 other organizations with expertise in everything from policy to technology to student health and wellness. The task force has started to share ideas in the form of a webinar series where experts from all parts of the sector come together to discuss issues ranging from arts enrichment to social-emotional learning in a distance setting.

“We’re in a traumatic, unprecedented time but there are so many organizations at the federal and national level, at the state level and community level with tremendous resources,” says the organization’s CEO, Aaron Dworkin. “What we’re trying to do is take the best recommendations and examples of what works and provide guidance to communities for the summer.”

As leaders think about structuring summer programming to meet the needs of students during the pandemic, a few tried-and-true principles still hold fast — even in a pandemic. Dworkin believes the following can still guide summer learning opportunities:

  • Importance: Leaders should identify their districts’ biggest need and design summer programming to address that need. Professional development should be provided to educators so that they can continue to address that leading issue in the fall.
  • Innovation: Teaching in the summer comes with greater flexibility, says Dworkin, and that’s still true in the current climate. Educators can work with smaller groups of children, which allows them to do more hands-on learning. It’s also a chance to try out a new program, schedule, structure, or curriculum before rolling it out on a larger scale.
  • Integration: “The summer is a time and chance to connect dots in ways that don’t happen during the regular school year,” Dworkin says, noting that schools should look for opportunities to partner with nonprofits, libraries, or recreation departments to deliver high quality summer enrichment.
  • Impact: For many students, the summer is a chance to prepare for the upcoming school year. “By definition, summer is a transition moment in life and there’s a lot of research to show that if you want to have a lasting impact, you should meet young people in that transition moment,” Dworkin says. He emphasizes that this is especially important for students who are entering high school.

“The summer is a time and chance to connect dots in ways that don’t happen during the regular school year.”

However, the current situation is fluid, and there may not be a one-size-fits-all set of guidance. New kinds of summer opportunities and new ways of thinking will be necessary in every community to ensure time isn’t lost. Dworkin believes the people and organizations that will be most effective in creating programming in the current climate are those who are “hyper-collaborative and hyper-creative.” Collaborative and creative leaders may need to consider the following actions to balance disruption brought on by the virus:

  • Seek out funding opportunities. The CARES act allocated $30.75 billion in an education stabilization fund directly to school districts across the country with flexibility around spending. Consider the ways in which it could be invested in summer learning to set students up for success in the coming year.
  • Reimagine summer employment — consider how it can look this year. Older students in particular need support, as many districts have canceled summer employment programs. But communities may be able to find alternatives; can they allow students to work remotely, pursue professional development and job-related online learning, and have the option to gain in-person job experience once workplaces reopen?
  • Frame program development with health and safety guidelines. The American Camp Association has released guidelines for camps on how to operate this summer. Putting the safety of students and CDC regulations first, the guidance offers some ways for camps to continue to offer programming. In some cases, the creation of closed groups (where no new individuals come in or out), quarantine periods, the use of PPE, regular equipment and space cleaning, and medical staff could allow for in-person sessions.
  • Put relationships at the center. Whether at a summer course or an outdoor day camp, relationships have always been an essential ingredient in summer programs. Now more than ever those relationships are critical to ensuring a meaningful experience. Think about ways to provide students with individualized attention and mentorship. Connect with mentoring organizations but also consider other possibilities. With many college students looking for scarce internships or employment, they may be available to provide additional support for younger children and high schoolers.

Key Takeaways

  • Partnerships are necessary to build high quality programming that bridges gaps by meeting diverse needs and can be implemented in a variety of settings.
  • Creativity will be required as leaders think strategically about how to develop programing for all students that also preserve the health of its students and instructors.
  • Personalize summer learning for students by fostering relationships between students and mentor figures. Also personalize learning at the district level and home in on a specific need of the community you serve.

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