Keller @ Large: How Expanded Summer Programs Can Help Students Who Fell Behind During COVID Pandemic

WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller talks to Massachusetts Sec. of Education Jim Peyser.

Video Transcript

JON KELLER: Welcome back to our conversation about school. Getting the kids back to school. Helping to address the terrible deficits that have emerged in education and emotional well-being during the pandemic, with the state Secretary of Education, Jim Peyser. Jim, what about summer school? Is there any reason why starting in late June any family who wants it should have access to five days a week summer school catch up schooling for their children"?

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION JIM PEYSER: They tend to be for students who are-- a small number of students who are falling way behind, who are at risk at not being promoted to the next grade level. What we're experiencing right now is potentially a much broader set of students who-- they're be being promoted to the next grade level, but they have fallen way behind where they need to be and way behind where some of their peers are. And we need to be able to catch them up. They need more learning time. And we need to have expanded summer programs to make that possible.

Some of that certainly will be through traditional summer school programs that are operated by school districts. And the state will be mobilizing resources to support schools in doing that. I should say, in addition to state resources, most school districts, in particular the larger urban school districts, are receiving tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government directly to support COVID-related expenses including summer school and other external programs.

So the combination of those resources means we should have expanded summer school programs. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working on acceleration academies, a form of summer school that has been piloted or run actually for many years in Lawrence as well as in Boston. And to make those more available to the school districts and students across the state. We need to also be supporting public-private partnerships between districts and community based organizations, and out of school time providers to offer alternative settings for students to have access to learning opportunities, including expanded summer camp programs with additional learning enrichment that may have historically not been kind of a core part of what those camp programs do.

JON KELLER: Is the state in charge of seeing to it that these are up and running by late June or is that a district by district mandate?

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION JIM PEYSER: A little bit of both. And I'm not sure late June is necessarily the time when most of this is likely to start. Probably it will be more like after the 4th of July, which is kind of typical for when summer programs begin. I think it's going to be some combination of state and local initiative, and partnership obviously, between them in order to make this happen at a scale that really is commensurate with the scale of the problem.

JON KELLER: Because I spent quite a bit of time searching online for information about summer school-- expanded access to summer school at the state level, at the local level and I came up empty. It's almost March. How are families supposed to plan for this if the planning at the bureaucratic level appears to be at best piecemeal and still evolving? Is that fair?

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION JIM PEYSER: It is fair. On the other hand, the sort of natural cycle, if you will, for summer school and summer program development and expansion tends to be occurring, sort of, as we speak. Kind of beginning with the February vacation and in the weeks following it. So I think we're on track to getting this up and running but we have to have a sense of urgency about it to make it happen faster.

JON KELLER: This seems like such a win-win all the way around. Parents have a place for their kids to go in the summer. Kids who need to catch up can catch up. Teachers will make extra dough. Is there anybody who's not on board with massive summer school expansion?

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION JIM PEYSER: I guess my answer to that is, I hope not. And I don't see why they should be. I will say the thing that is going to be critical to all of this is a much more robust in-person learning experience in the summer and obviously into the fall as well.

JON KELLER: Secretary Peyser, Thanks so much for your time this morning. My pleasure great to be here.