Summer learning is more than a remedial education strategy; it connects children to their passions
Like so many aspects of pre-pandemic life, COVID-19 continues to reshape the way we think about education in radical and unexpected ways. Nowhere has this been more relevant than in the realm of summer learning. Due to the historic challenges and opportunities posed by the virus, summer learning providers engaged an unprecedented number of students with meaningful learning experiences and provided essential services to young people who had the most. need. More than 120,000 Maryland public school students completed summer learning programs between June and September 2021, representing the largest expanded learning initiative in state history.
The need for an undertaking of this magnitude was obvious to anyone working in the field of youth development. Schools have been among the institutions hardest hit by the pandemic, blighted by recurring school closures and often rocky fluctuations between virtual learning and in-person instruction. This hybrid learning model had mixed results at best, and students frequently reported feelings of increased anxiety and isolation as the lockdowns lasted. “Learning loss” has become a catch-all phrase used to describe the academic, social, and emotional setbacks suffered by students when the pandemic relegated them to their homes.
The opportunity to address these challenges presented itself in the spring of 2021. The advent of accessible vaccines allowed students and faculty to begin planning to meet and learn again in person, while systems support National and local school grants provided by the American Rescue Plan and other government spending initiatives have provided the funds needed to reintegrate students into the classroom. As these plans began to crystallize, public officials quickly identified summer learning programs as an essential component of student recovery and directed funds to these efforts accordingly.
The fact that nearly one in six public school students across the state received summer learning services with only a few weeks to prepare is an incredible achievement. Additionally, these programs targeted students who suffered the most from school closures, prioritizing those with low school attendance, ESL students, and children with limited access to technology. This equity-focused approach to program management was a lifeline for struggling students across the state, providing thousands of young people with credit recovery opportunities, free lunches, job training and can -being most important, the opportunity to bond with peers and mentors.
It is now up to educators and public officials to understand and replicate the factors that contributed to the success of these programs.. In a report published by the Maryland Out of School Time Network, partnerships with community-based nonprofit organizations have been identified as one of the most effective tools that state and local school systems can use to improve student outcomes. School districts that have used these partnerships have been able to serve 50% more students and offer more diverse subjects, in large part because of the staff and expertise these organizations provide.
The report also highlights upcoming fiscal cliffs that could threaten the program’s future viability. While pandemic-era relief programs have played a critical role in delivering these services to students at scale, the ephemeral nature of these funding streams will inevitably require providers and school systems to identify revenue streams. additional funds to compensate for the end of these stimulus programs. To achieve long-term sustainability, elected officials will need to earmark funds specifically for expanded learning initiatives and find ways to distribute those funds in ways that promote collaboration among relevant stakeholders.
However, perhaps the greatest contributor to the success of the program has been our willingness to see summer learning as more than just a remedial education strategy. The 2021 experience reminded us that children are always learning whether they are in class or not. Out-of-school programs celebrate this by providing space for students to connect with their passions, develop new skills, and build stronger relationships with members of their community. The real value of summer learning is that it forgoes rigid assessments in favor of personal growth and self-expression, emphasizing the idea that the most important lesson we can teach students is value of learning for itself.