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Summer school set for NLR students after covid-19 year



NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The North Little Rock School District will offer an in-person summer school program in hopes of mitigating some of the learning loss created by the covid-19 pandemic.

The School Board has approved a five-week summer school program for the entire district. The program will run from June 7 through July 8 for secondary school students, and from June 14 to July 15 for elementary school students.

Superintendent Gregory Pilewski said summer school will be mandatory face-to-face instruction for students who are in need of academic recovery, but is also open to those who want to accelerate their learning.

“Our primary target is students who have not been successful because of the pandemic, primarily in the areas of attendance and academic performance,” he said. “It will be mandatory for those students, but it will be offered to all students.

“We want to get our kids caught up the best we can.”

Pilewski said the district is in the process of reaching out to parents to let them know if their child needs to attend the mandatory program.

The district is one of the first to announce summer plans, and Pilewski said the reason is simple.

“The primary driver is to mitigate the learning loss,” he said. “We have to get the information out that we are having a summer program that is face to face and on site in hopes of getting our kids caught up and prepared for the next school year in the fall. This is sort of a massive ICU for intense support for our students.”

Arkansas school districts are in different stages of developing summer learning programs — sometimes in coordination with community partners — that are more expansive than what has been provided in previous years.

The Academics Plus Charter School system based in Maumelle, for example, is offering half-day sessions in the month of June for all students who want to raise achievement. The summer lessons are mandatory for those who will otherwise be retained in their current grades because of low achievement, Chief Executive Officer Rob McGill said.

Previously the charter system only offered credit recovery programs for high school students.

The Little Rock School District is currently surveying the public about possible summer learning plans as well as plans for the upcoming 2021-22 school year. The survey will be conducted through May 1.

Kimberly Mundell, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Friday that districts can use portions of their federal covid-19 relief funding for summer learning opportunities for students.

“We encourage them to do that,” Mundell said. “However, it is up to the districts to make those decisions.”

Pilewski said the North Little Rock district has targeted 1,600 students who are in need of the program, but he expects the numbers to rise with volunteer participation.

The program will be held on every campus in the school district. Food and transportation will be provided to participants.

“We want to sit down with the student’s parents and guardians and have a discussion about the whole child,” he said. “We want to tell them by making it mandatory it will help your child learn.”

The program will last 5½ hours a day and will include extracurricular activities.

“For elementary we want to do some STEM and enrichment activities,” Pilewski said. “For secondary the enrichment side will include arts, dance and sports. By providing transportation and food services it can almost coincide with the parents’ work schedule as well.”

Pilewski said this will be the largest summer school program the district has had since it expands outside the secondary schools.

“It’s new, but definitely needed,” he said.

Pilewski said data from the school year shows that students do better academically when learning face-to-face.

“There is no substitute for face-to-face instruction,” he said.

Teachers have been made aware of the summer program, and Pilewski said the district is trying to analyze the number of outside educators who will be needed.

“Some principals think they will be OK, and some school sites might not have enough teachers,” he said. “We want to start with our own teachers first, but also cast the net as wide and as far as we can.

“For me, the biggest thing is trying to match our students with highly qualified teachers.”

Pilewski said the district will provide two incentives to help with teacher recruitment.

“We are providing $45 an hour, which is higher than the traditional pay, because we know teachers are tired,” he said. “We are also getting our class sizes as small as we can. We are thinking 10 to 15 students per class.”

The program will be funded by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds. Pilewski said he plans to use the funds to continue the summer program beyond this year.

“From our understanding we will have these ESSER funds until 2024, and we plan to use them to have a summer program like this for the next four years,” he said. “Also, when we start next year we want to have extended day programs like tutoring and after-school activities to extend the time learning and improve academic performance.”