The Bedford Public Schools will sponsor a four-week morning summer school program for up to 200 elementary school children who are assessed as having suffered “learning loss” during this academic year.
School Committee members heard the details from Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford at their meeting Tuesday. And they urged the administration to investigate summer programming for older students as well.
Clifford said planning began three months ago and was accelerated by a March 9 memorandum from the state commissioner of education calling for recovery through opportunities for summer learning. Also central to the planning was the likelihood of federal funds, she said.
“Lots of people understand why we might be talking about summer school after the year we’ve had,” Clifford told the committee. The Bedford effort is designed to “ensure that the most important concepts and skills are understood.” She emphasized that the focus will be on compensating for the past year, not on looking ahead.
“All efforts will be made to have some fun too,” she added.
Clifford, who acknowledged that learning loss doesn’t appear to be as great as initially feared, said summer school supervisors will be working with English language arts and math curriculum coordinators this spring. They will be developing “programs that are easily used by teachers and that focus on maximizing what students need to know and be able to do.”
The specifics outlined Tuesday are:
- In-person classes at Davis and Lane Schools will be on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. between July 6 and Aug. 5.
- Classes will be in math, reading, and writing, with blocs between 45 and 60 minutes. There will be a 15-minute slot for recess and snacks and “movement breaks throughout the morning.”
- Students entering first and second grades will be assigned to Davis. Students entering grades 3, 4, and 5 will be at Lane. School Committee members noted that this will help the third graders with their transition from Davis.
- After identifying need through various assessment tools, participants will be invited to fill up to 200 seats. A second wave of invitation will follow once the number of remaining seats is ascertained. Participants are required to stay for the entire morning. “Math, reading, and writing, especially at the elementary level, are very interconnected,” Clifford said.
- Arrangements could be made to accommodate vacations. Answering a question from committee member JoAnn Santiago, Clifford said the goal is to fill the seats, so flexibility will be the aim with family schedules.
- There will be a director in each building. Twenty teachers will be on the payroll. “We are making nice progress on hiring,” Clifford said.
- Protocols to deter the coronavirus will continue to be followed.
Committee member Ann Guay raised the question of help for middle and high school students. The state is leaving that up to individual districts, Clifford replied. “I checked with other districts and for the most part, they parallel us. We want to make sure we do a quality job on the things we think are most important foundationally.”
Guay’s colleague Brad Morrison pushed back. There has been a loss of learning time he said; “Are we saying that we don’t think there’s a need?” Clifford acknowledged that “certainly some kids would benefit.” She noted that traditionally summer classes for high school students have been for those who couldn’t pass into the next grade.
Clifford said she would speak to middle school administrators about summer possibilities. Planning for Davis and Lane was done “within the constraints of how many teachers we can hire in how many different buildings.” She said she is also considering doubling English language arts for sixth graders beginning in September “addressing those pieces that need to be covered.”
Dan Brosgol, committee chair, said he is “concerned about the optics and the reality” of stopping after grade 5. “I want to describe to the community how we are assisting older kids with recovery and what that means.” He also acknowledged, “It’s a little harder to tell your 10th grader to go to school in the summer than your second grader. But if we’re ever going to try something different, this is the time.”
There were other suggestions. Guay said urban districts could be the source of summer program ideas. She also suggested a free lunch option. Member Sarah Scoville inquired about partnering with Recreation Department summer programs, which “would allow a little more flexibility for families.”
At the elementary level, Guay asked why the school day is only three hours long. Clifford said the decision was based partly on financial considerations but also that a longer day can be counterproductive to efforts to focus on the key areas. Guay acknowledged that the schools aren’t air-conditioned.
Asked by Santiago about accommodating students who live in Boston, Clifford said “we are making sure that the safety nets are able to ensure that anyone who needs help is getting it.” There may be federal money available to pay for transportation, but if students can’t get here there will be other plans developed, Clifford said.
Guay asked about the potential amount of federal money. Julie Kirrane, the schools’ director of finance, said that won’t be known until May, “but between town resources and grant dollars we are confident we can cover the costs.” School Superintendent Philip Conrad stressed that no local funds will be expended until other sources are exhausted.
Kirrane said she has been told that the formula will mirror aid received under last federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).
There are other summer opportunities for learning, Clifford said, such as the calculus project for middle and high school students; English language learning; special education programs; Edgenuity for BHS students who need credit recovery; and extra work for middle and elementary school students posted online.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763