Informal outlets will power remote summer learning opportunities

The last day of school for the Alhambra Unified School District in California is May 28, 2020, yet plans for how summer learning and summer school will run have yet to be decided, said high school teacher Jose Sanchez.

Still, he is determined that his students — including 30 seniors — at Alhambra High School will have an opportunity to continue their learning even as the uncertainty of the coming months remains.

“There is no doubt that my thoughts are on what will happen in the fall and whether we will resume classes in California, but my gut feeling tells me we’re probably going to be doing distance learning probably for the rest of the school year,” Sanchez told Education Dive by email. “So, my summer will be focused on having my classroom ready to go digitally online through Google classroom and finding ways to keep in contact and keep my students engaged through the summer.” 

Summer slide is already an annual concern during school years when coronavirus is not present. With social distancing rules still imposed from the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, educators are looking at how to continue supporting students as the nation continues its crawl toward reopening, putting plans in place to stay in touch and stem learning loss.

These efforts include not only continuing online learning into the summer months, but finding informal ways to connect, so educators can continue with lessons and projects started since lockdowns went into effect this year.

Videoconferencing remains essential in summer school

Every year, Sanchez has his students in Alhambra, California, work on a political issue either at the local, state or national level. This school year, they decided to focus on the 2020 Census and reach out to the community to help them understand the importance of completing these forms.

The pandemic, however, upended those plans, making it impossible to be out in public and talking with people. But now, students are brainstorming steps they can take even over the summer months.

One will be to meet with local elected officials, including Alhambra City Councilwoman Adele Andrade-Stadler, and have conversations over the videoconferencing tool Zoom. Other projects may include writing an opinion piece for a local paper or launching a social media campaign and reach out to fellow students to “ensure they were ‘counted,’” said Sanchez.

All of these activities are designed to help students continue to learn “…about the importance of the Census as it pertains to funding, apportionment of Congresspeople, and how minority groups like the undocumented, immigrants, Native Americans and even Hispanics and Asians are impacted by the Census,” he said.

Social media loops families in on summer projects

Cricket Dowdy’s school year ends May 22, but the kindergarten teacher in the Mitchell County School District in Georgia already has learning plans in place for the upcoming summer months.

During Baconton Community Charter School’s shift to remote learning, Dowdy, also a member of the Association of American Educators, launched a private Facebook page where her students, along with family members, could go even if they didn’t have a computer at home. She knew families had smartphones and that most were on the network, so Dowdy felt comfortable posting everything from read-alouds to science projects. That will continue over the summer.

With the science projects she assigns her class, Dowdy tends to first film herself performing the task, like making moon dough, so children can follow along with their families. Students can then either send her a video of themselves doing the project, write about their experience, or send her a picture. Other projects she’s assigned this way have included making a tie-dye butterfly with coffee filters, markers, pipe cleaners and a bottle.

“There’s always an element of learning where we go from separate ingredients to making something new,” Dowdy told Education Dive. “From that aspect, I want them to have fun and do something creative.”

She will keep projects going over the summer, as well as videos she posts of herself reading books, like those by Dr. Seuss, aloud. She’s been able to bring in others to read to the students over Facebook, too, including family members, friends and even other children.

“It was surprising to me how many kids of mine did not have storybooks at home,” she said. “So those will continue for the summer.”

More traditional online courses fill gaps

In Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools, librarian IdaMae Craddock will teach U.S. History and government through online education platform Edgenuity. Students were actually given three options of how to handle the remainder of the academic year when school transferred to remote learning, either opting out for the remainder of classes, signing up instead for summer courses, or pulling double-duty when school resumes in the fall.

Craddock said these options were core to addressing how each student may have different needs and different ways of handling the pandemic, she told Education Dive.

She noted the district’s summer calendar has yet to be formalized, but that she will continue to work through the summer with a partnership called CoBuild19. That online program includes members from Indiana University and other organizations, said Craddock, where activities are posted weekly and range from how to build an amplifier to designing a communication device akin to the one in “Horton Hears a Who!”

Everything can be created at home with simple resources, such as cardboard, and everyone from teachers to families is invited to join.

“It’s not just professional educators participating and contributing,” she said. “It’s also more open-ended to include younger kids and teenagers.”

In addition, Craddock and other school librarians are also going to continue to co-run book clubs that started during the school year for students in the district. It’s a program she’s enjoyed tremendously.

“Running book clubs has been awesome,” she said. “Those kids are fantastic, and most librarians are doing it. We have two librarians in every group, so if one gets sick the other can keep going.”

As tumultuous as this year has been for students, some educators are finding the steps they’ve taken to connect with their classes may be useful not just for the summer, but for fall as well.

Dowdy, for example, definitely plans to keep some video component going with her classes  not just for the children but for their parents. She’s discovered she likes parents hearing the terminology she uses with students, so they can mirror that with their children while at home and continue to support their learning.

But she also believes she’s helping forge a connection between her students and their peers, and with her too.

“I just had a parent message me on Facebook that her little girl was missing me and could she call me,” said Dowdy. “I would like to keep a class Facebook page, because I think it adds another sense of community for my kids and their families.”

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