Educators are already aware of the "summer slide," the slowing of learning between school years, but this year summer programs will play a bigger part in helping many catch up both academically and socially after a school year that was completely remote for many San Mateo County students.
Students on average were likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of the 2020-21 school year, a McKinsey & Company study from this last winter found.
Parents are concerned about these losses. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of parents of young children said they worry about their child's ability to socialize with other children, and 74% are worried that their child's education and development will suffer amid the pandemic, according to a February poll of 600 parents of children ages 0 to 5 in California by the Education Trust-West.
In an effort to address the impacts of the pandemic on student learning, Gov. Gavin Newson provided districts with grants to bolster their summer programs. School districts and county organizations are hosting additional programming this summer to meet these needs.
The San Mateo County Libraries JPA board approved $892,000 in additional funds to support student programs this summer.
The Library Explorers program has about 325 kids enrolled during June and July, Monday through Wednesday. It's designed to develop literacy, math and social-emotional skills in preparation for the 2021-22 school year. The curriculum is tailored to the age group — students are divided into groups of rising kindergartners, first and second graders, and third and fifth graders.
"COVID-19 impacts have exacerbated and deepened the inequities in youth learning achievement and social emotional development already present in our communities, disproportionately affecting youth of color," according to a county library press release.
First through fifth graders are taking part in the Families CREATE program, which includes both self-paced and guided live, interactive virtual experiences supplemented with English/Spanish kits with activities throughout the summer. Some 1,500 free STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) kits are being distributed at all county libraries.
This summer, the library system is also partnering with local parks and recreation departments to provide free books, library cards and hands-on learning materials to youth enrolled in their programs. Additional funding support will be provided to subsidize admission for high-need youth to increase enrollment and access to quality experiences.
Carine Risley, the county's deputy director of library services, said the Explorers program should make a difference to students who need additional support. Some students are out of practice just with being around adults other than their own parents, she said.
The Menlo Park City School District expanded its summer school offerings this year, offering a monthlong project-based learning program, along with a program for students who need more academic support. The state gave the district $2.4 million for such programming.
The district has part-day and full-day options. In the past, all three elementary schools fed into one summer school, but each site is hosting its own program this year to meet demand.
The state grant "will allow us to provide a more robust summer program that will help address any unfinished learning from fifteen months of distance and hybrid learning," the district website states.
About 160 students enrolled in Hillview Middle School's summer school program this year, said Jacky Schlegel, a sixth grade humanities teacher at Hillview and director of the summer school. Traditionally summer school is offered to students who need an academic boost, but this year the district opened it up to the entire community. Projects include knot-tying and DIY insect repellent as they answer the question "How can I survive in the wild?" Schlegel said.
"A lot of families recognized what was lost was socialization and ability to be with their friends every day," she said shortly before the program began. "We won't have stable cohorts; kids will be able to see one another (during breaks). ... You can't just ignore the social aspect that was lost as well."
Marla Bischoff said her daughter, a rising seventh grader, opted to participate in Hillview's virtual-only academy this past school year and didn't return to campus with other students who attended some classes in person.
"As the year progressed it was clear that she really missed the in-person contact from schoolmates and teachers," Bischoff said in an email. "She has been excited to return to in-person learning, and this summer program allows her the chance to transition back to school and to start to create new peer and teacher relationships. Teachers have assembled a project-based learning model to reinforce last year's standards, ensuring students are ready for next year."
Larra Olson, a third grade teacher at Encinal School, is the director of Oak Knoll School's summer school. She said 115 students have enrolled in summer school at Encinal.
"(Parents) were very thankful for the opportunity to have the option," she said. "Some families chose the Virtual Academy all year and this will be their first experiences back in person for over a year."
Olson said it was hard to find teachers because some are burned out from teaching during the pandemic. Seven teachers, mostly substitute teachers, are teaching at Oak Knoll this summer.
Laurel School's lower campus is hosting the district's Kick Off to Kindergarten program to help 55 incoming kindergartners who did not attend preschool or are learning English, according to Stacei Santana, Laurel Elementary School's summer school director.
The Las Lomitas Elementary School District, home to Las Lomitas Elementary School in Atherton and La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park, is offering expanded summer school programs this year, according to Shannon Potts, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the district. About 8.7% (96) of K-7 students registered for summer school in 2019, while 9.7% (101) students registered for in-person and virtual summer school in 2020. This year 10.2% (93) of K-7 students registered for summer school.
It's offering a new one-week Kickstart program to incoming kindergartners, first graders and fourth graders. Some 211 students had registered for the program — about 65% of students in those grades — as of June 23.
"We decided to add it because we didn't have the opportunity for incoming fourth graders to see the La Entrada campus this year," Potts explained in an email. "Same for incoming kinder(garten) to Las Lomitas. The 2020-21 kinder(garten) students moving into first grade had a shorter day than they usually do and didn't really move outside of the kinder(garten) yard so we thought they would benefit from a preview of the school."
The Portola Valley Elementary School District, which was open on a hybrid basis for much of the past school year, decided not to expand its summer school programs this year since many families opted to take advantage of the ability to travel instead, said Superintendent Roberta Zarea in an email.
"We have had a lot of conversations during our (governing) board meetings about the very same topic since this very much appeared to be the case during the early part of the 2020-21 school year (October/December)," she said. "In fact, our board even approved an expansion of our usual summer program to accommodate parents' learning concerns. Interestingly, when it actually came down to it, many parents whose students were invited to participate in the summer program chose to take a break and go on holiday this summer instead."