TAMPA — Summer school is being organized in Hillsborough County and, for now, it is all virtual.
While acknowledging distance learning is often less effective than learning in a school, superintendent Addison Davis says the COVID-19 crisis leaves him no choice. The district is planning distance lessons for thousands of children who need to bring up their skill levels in the elementary years or stay on track to graduate from high school.
“Summer learning loss is real,” he said in an interview. “It’s real and something that has to be dealt with.”
Notices are going out to families this week. Based on scores on i-Ready math and English tests, which are given throughout the school year, the district will invite students in kindergarten through fourth grade who are one grade level or more behind their peers.
Typically, such instruction is for second- and third-graders, Davis said. The other grades were added “due to the fact that we know that some of our students may not have been successful during this e-learning process.”
In addition to digital instruction, students will receive “Grab ‘N Go” packets of paper materials: Books, culturally relevant texts and materials that can be shared with the entire family.
For the older students, the district will offer credit recovery work through Edgenuity, the vendor it uses throughout the year.
Students can make up credits they have missed. And, in ninth and 10th grade, they can improve their grades in math and English language arts.
There will also be an Algebra I “boot camp" for students who scored a D or an F in that class.
All fee-based programs are postponed for now.
Davis estimated 24,000 students will take part in summer school programs at a total cost of $5.9 million. The programs include migrant summer school for farm worker families who travel throughout the year, creating challenges for their children in school.
Students will be allowed to hold onto the laptop computers and portable hotspots that were loaned out in March and April, when all school buildings were closed for instruction. The same goes for those students who did not test behind level, but want to learn during the summer anyway.
Some families have struggled with the virtual format, which was especially challenging for parents and children who had limited experience with computers.
Children who are behind in their skills, or lack confidence, could continue to struggle in summer school.
When asked about the dilemma, Davis said, “It’s going to be difficult. Is it the same as face-to-face? The answer to that is going to be no, for most. But we have some students who are thriving. And we have some teachers who are doing amazing things. Am I confident that it will address the summer learning loss? Time will tell.”
Davis added that if things change in Tallahassee, and there is a speedy reopening of businesses and schools, “I will try to get back kids who are underperforming and in underperforming schools to our campuses.”
For that to happen, the state would probably need to move by June 15, he said. “If I can get them in July, I’ll get them in July.”