Summer school starts Monday for some students. Here’s what we know so far

A young student at CICS West Belden school works on a tablet computer during class at the Chicago charter school. The school employs the personalized learning method for its K-8 students. The school is part of the Chicago International Charter School network, and is managed by Distinctive Schools,. Photo by Stace Rupolo (Stacey Rupolo / Chalkbeat)

In Chicago, as in cities across the country, summer school carries higher stakes this year. 

After the profound disruption to learning wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, summer instruction will give students a chance to catch up on school work — and credits — they missed this past spring. It will allow some students to get back on track for fall studies or to graduate.

With an all-virtual format, it will be a summer learning season like no other.

The district this week shared some information about its plans for summer school, which starts Monday for some students. A push to sign up students is already under way, LaTanya McDade, chief academic officer, told the district’s governing board this week. 

“We’re really working very hard to make sure all eligible students and their families are informed about summer learning opportunities,” she said.

Leaders stressed the need for a more uniform approach across the district after a spring of remote learning in which schools had leeway to design their own plans — and saw mixed results. The district will use the same digital platforms and set requirements for all teachers providing instruction this summer.

Answers to some key questions, which Chalkbeat posed to the district last week, remain unclear: How many students will take part? How does this year’s cost compare to last year?

Here are answers to some questions: 

Which students will take part in summer school?

Summer school this year is geared toward elementary students who got “incompletes” in reading and math, as well as high school students who need to earn credit to meet their graduation requirement. The district will also offer programs for certain English language learners and for students with special needs whose individualized learning programs recommend an extended school year. There will be a “summer melt” course to help prepare graduates to meet their postsecondary goals and a “summer of algebra” for freshmen who were enrolled in algebra classes but did not meet competency criteria.   

When will summer school begin and end?

Some summer learning, including credit recovery and extended school year learning for diverse learners, begins on Monday. Other courses, like “bridge” learning for students who ended the fourth quarter with an incomplete, begins July 20. The full schedule is available on slides 6 and 7 in this district presentation. 

Can families opt in?

Families can’t opt in to summer learning, which the district intends to meet the needs of specific student groups, but they pointed families towards free learning summer resources offered as part of the district’s COVID-19 remote learning support. 

What platforms will the district use to provide uniform instruction?

The district will use the platforms Amplify and Imagine Learning for reading instruction, ST Math and Khan Academy for math, and Apex and Edgenuity for credit recovery. Officials also said educators will embed social and emotional learning into daily lessons.

Khan Academy this week touted math courses Chicago will be using, designed especially to address the acute learning loss some students might have experienced during the pandemic. 

Using these outside instructional platforms is a departure from previous years when teachers designed their own summer school curriculums, said Dominicca Washington, who recruits teachers for the district and used to teach summer school. Washington thinks the use of these platforms will allow the district to enroll more students, simplify things for educators still working to adjust to remote teaching, and “create the objectivity we need to measure student success.” 

“My question would be, ‘If these kids couldn’t participate in the beginning, what provisions will be made to ensure they can participate during the summer?’” she said.

Will district teachers provide instruction during summer school?

Chicago Public Schools teachers will provide all instruction during summer school using the platforms noted above. More than 1,200 Chicago educators will teach in the various summer programs. The exception is the high school credit recovery program which, as it does every year, will use outside vendors, said the district.

Will the district take attendance?

Yes, the district plans to take daily attendance during summer school. Enrollment numbers for the summer program are not yet available, according to school officials. 

What will a typical day of instruction look like?

The district gave as an example the daily schedule of a student in summer school, which would start at 8:30 a.m. with a 35 minute to 55-minute literacy video class. The student would spend the next 65 to 85 minutes working in small groups and doing independent work using the platform Amplify. After a break, the whole class would meet virtually again for a half hour of math at 10:30 a.m., followed by more small group and independent work using Khan Academy.Students will get somewhere between 3 and 4.5 hours of schooling a day. 

How will the district recruit students and ensure they have internet access?

This year, the district is using a centralized process to recruit and register students who qualify for summer school. Officials said they are notifying families by phone, email, robo-calls, and text messages.

The district and the city of Chicago announced a new initiative Thursday to connect as many as 100,000 students to high-speed internet for free, using donations and federal funds. They said students who qualify for summer school will be first in line for the program, and the district will begin outreach to them next week.

What is the total estimated cost of summer school this year?

The total estimated cost of summer school this year is $15.1 million, according to the district. 

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