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 loss. High school and college students, too, find themselves at home without summer employment or internships. However, 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.