Willmar's summer school to be larger than usual, some students struggled during pandemic

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Jun. 5—WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools' summer school program will serve about 600 students this year, about 14% of the student body and 150-170 more students than in a typical year.

After a teacher planning day on June 8, summer school begins June 9. School will run Monday through Thursday through July 1.

Bus transportation will be available for all students, and they will be fed breakfast and lunch each day at no charge.

Students and their families have gone through educational turmoil since March 2020, and one way it shows is in the larger number of students in summer school.

Abrupt transitions from in-person to distance learning due to the pandemic, or a combination of the two, took a toll on some students' academic progress.

Willmar will be using federal pandemic aid to hire enough teachers to provide smaller student-teacher ratios for students.

"We're very thankful we're able to do this," said Nick Clasemann, principal of the district's alternative programs. He's also in charge of summer school programs.

As always, kids are invited to attend summer school for a variety of reasons. For some, it will be the upheaval of the pandemic. But students are not required to attend summer school.

The district will use Lakeland Elementary School, Willmar Middle School, the Area Learning Center and Willmar Senior High School.

High school students normally attend summer school at the Area Learning Center, but it isn't big enough for the number of students expected this year.

The district expects about 315 students in grades K-5 at Lakeland, 82 in grades 6-8 at the middle school and 200 in grades 9-12 at the high school and the ALC.

The average summer enrollment is 225-250 elementary, 85-100 middle school and 120 high school students.

Part of the summer school plan is to tailor instruction to each student. In some cases, one or two units kept them from earning credit in a course.

Teachers throughout the district have been working for weeks to develop summer school plans for individual students, Clasemann said.

Instructors who aren't teaching this summer will provide information about what students need to do to meet state standards and complete the requirements of their courses.

Students won't have to retake the parts they passed the first time. Earlier in the spring, Director of Teaching and Learning Carrie Thomas said some students may be able to complete a missing credit in just a day or two.

If they successfully complete credits, students will see new grades replace the Fs they may have received originally, Clasemann said. That should be a help when they apply to colleges.

Clasemann said staff members have responded to the need to staff the summer school, and nearly everyone who applied to work in June has been hired.

The summer school will highlight the type of work the Area Learning Center staff does regularly, he said.

Teachers there usually oversee students from several grades in a classroom, teaching a series of individual mini-lessons depending on what each student needs.

Some students, especially teenagers, have turned down the chance to go to summer school, which they are allowed to do.

"For some, summer is a big money-making time for them," Clasemann said. Some teens work to help support their families or to pay their own rent and car payments, he added.

But for other students, summer school is a way to make progress toward their goal. Some see a chance to move faster toward a diploma from the ALC; others are on a mission to return to the high school to graduate.

Pandemic aid is here for summer school

An estimated $450,000 in federal pandemic aid will be available for Willmar Public Schools' summer school program.

The program is expected to serve about 600 students who just finished grades K-11. Classes will run Monday through Thursday from June 9 through July 1.

Business and Finance Director Kathryn Haase said the state released funding related to summer schools last week. Had the money not been released in time, school officials had planned to use unspent funding from other pandemic relief programs temporarily.

Funding for summer school will come from three different "buckets" of money, Haase said.

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About $217,000 from the Governor's Discretionary American Rescue Plan Fund, intended to support academic enrichment and mental health through August 2022.

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An estimated $190,000 in pandemic relief aid allocated by the Minnesota Department of Education for in-person summer school, final amount depends on the average daily enrollment.

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$48,000 for a summer preschool program for students entering kindergarten. This program was not in the district's original plan, but early childhood educators are developing a class to be offered later in the summer.