May 4—It's been a school year like none other, so it should come as no surprise that the summer will bring more of the same, and about six weeks before the last day of the 2020-21 academic year local districts are scrambling to organize summer school programs designed to help students and families recover at least some of what's been lost.
Soon after Medford laid out plans for its Summer Experience, other districts around the valley are starting to release details of their own summer school programs. And while dates, schedules and elective options may differ, the goals are very similar across the board, conforming to the Oregon Department of Education's Summer Learning Best Practice Guide that was released April 14: summer school in 2021 should, according to the guidance, promote and support students' mental health and well-being and provide learning opportunities "grounded in student interests that can ignite and renew engagement, foster learning and nourish in-person connections."
Coordinators for summer school programs in Eagle Point, Phoenix-Talent and Ashland school districts each described summer school programs that stick to that philosophy, while also unveiling credit-retrieval options for high school students who have fallen behind.
"Just trying to make it a fun summer experience for kids where they're away from their screens, they're engaged with some academic stuff in the mornings, and then really kind of fun stuff within the confines of having to follow all the safety guidelines," said Talent Elementary Principal Heather Lowe, who's planning Phoenix-Talent's summer program.
"We have a two-way focus," said White Mountain Middle School Principal Karina Rizzo, who is coordinating the Eagle Point School District's summer program, "and one would be academics, but then a big part of it would be social-emotional learning. Our focus is reconnecting students and then supporting their mental health and well-being as well."
How much time each district will have to meet those goals will vary and likely depend on staffing. For the most part, however, rough drafts of summer school schedules have already been drawn up.
In Eagle Point School District, kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Table Rock Elementary, Eagle Rock Elementary, Lake Creek Learning Center, Hillside Elementary and Shady Cove School will have access to summer school and meals (hot breakfast and lunch will be served) for about a month-long segment in the middle of summer.
At Table Rock Elementary, school will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday-Friday the week of June 2. For the other elementary schools, the plan is to open up from 8 a.m. to noon, June 21 through July 15. The district also is partnering with the YMCA in a deal that will tentatively offer free child care from noon to 5 p.m.
Eagle Point middle-schoolers will be able to go back to school from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday from June 21 through July 15. The district's credit retrieval program will be available to current high-schoolers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday during a two-week stretch from June 21 through July 2.
Eagle Point will also offer a migrant summer school option at White Mountain Middle School for prekindergarteners through second-graders. That will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 21 through July 29, and like each of the district's other summer school options, breakfast and lunch will be served.
Rizzo said core classes will be offered to high-schoolers who have fallen behind in math, language arts, science, social studies and health/physical education. For those who take advantage of the program, it'll feel very much like a typical high school experience, but condensed.
"The students that have to retrieve credits for those five classes will be invited to participate, and then it's going to be like a regular bell schedule where they have five classes a day and they go to all five of those and make up the credits in two weeks," Rizzo said. "We start to lose students after those initial two weeks. A lot of them, they have jobs in the summer or other things going on so we really want to grab them and give them an intense program so they can get this done and then go off and do whatever else they need to do the rest of the summer."
In Phoenix-Talent School District, a three-hour academic block will be offered to elementary students four days a week (Monday through Thursday) in July, with community partners Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA handling afternoon child care services. Those K-5 students will have the option of attending Phoenix Elementary, Talent Elementary or Orchard Hill Elementary from 8 a.m. to noon, with an hour set aside for breakfast and lunch (also provided).
Exact dates are still being finalized, but families should expect registration information by the end of the month, Lowe said.
"So we're kind of in the initial stages of getting all the details figured out to kind of decide how many kids we can really admit, which is all based on staff," Lowe said. "So our target is to offer one class per grade level at all of our elementary schools. So we would have six classrooms running at all three elementary schools with a target of about 15 kids per class. So smaller class sizes, and that would be a teacher and an instructional assistant in every classroom."
Summer school will likely be a popular place in Phoenix-Talent. At last count, Lowe said, 360 elementary school families reported in a survey that they want a summer school option.
"So we have plenty of desire, that's for sure," she said. "So it's just about getting the puzzle pieces to fit with staffing and students."
The district will also hold a migrant education program this summer at Phoenix Elementary that will include a partnership with Camp Invention.
A six-week summer school program starting in early July is in the works for Talent Middle School, but staffing for that is still a question mark. At Phoenix High, the district will have a pair of two-week summer sessions that will serve incoming freshmen and students in need of credit retrieval. The first will be held Monday through Thursday from June 21 through July 1; the second is set for Aug. 2 through Aug. 12. The credit-retrieval program will run from 9 a.m. to noon each day, and the Pirate Camp, which will include some help from community partner Talent Maker City, will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"We're really reaching out to those incoming ninth-graders, getting them engaged with some hands-on work with the potential to earn some high school elective credits prior to even coming to high school," Phoenix High Principal Toby Walker said, adding that breakfast, lunch and transportation will be provided.
Ashland School District will offer two three-week Monday-through-Thursday "summer learning" sessions for K-8 students, with the first being held July 12 through July 30 and the second Aug. 2 through Aug. 20. Both will be held at Lincoln Elementary, which is about a block away from Ashland High — that setup was designed to allow the district to simplify its transportation and meal distribution.
Classes focusing on core subjects will be held from 9 a.m. to noon, and child care will be available until 5 p.m. Students who stay for the afternoon sessions will be able to choose from a host of enrichment activities, including art, sports, science labs, geocaching, hiking, book-making, outdoor education, Lego robotics and theater.
Like other high schools throughout the valley, Ashland High will turn its focus this summer to credit retrieval, said AHS Dean of Students Glenna Stiles.
"We're just targeting all the kids that didn't earn all their credits," Stiles said. "So basically, if they're not on track credit-wise, we're like, 'Come on in.' They can do three recovery credits per session. So they can earn back up to six credit in the six-week period."
Stiles and Bellview interim Principal Lindsay Gates, who is serving as the district's summer school coordinator, both said they were thrilled when 35 certified teachers indicated they were interested in teaching one or two summer sessions. Another 40 educational support staffers are also willing to sign up, they said, which should make it possible for the district to handle however many students decide to attend.
"We were both really surprised," Stiles said. "I think part of it is we waited — we're not doing it until mid-July, so everyone's going to get a nice restorative month before we throw them back in the classroom. Also, we're offering some pretty good money and small class sizes. And we're focusing on fun. We don't want this to be some big, rigorous thing with lots of homework. We want kids to feel happy about being in school again."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.