CSBA webinar discusses summer learning resources and strategies

Whether expanding on existing summer learning opportunities to meet newfound student needs or launching new programs to jumpstart learning recovery, there are funding and resources available to assist local educational agencies in meeting their individual goals.

Experts discussed how districts can best leverage state and federal funding to support students and examples of how some LEAs are planning for summer during the April 27 webinar, “School’s in for Summer: Strategies for Successful Summer Programs and Beyond.” The webinar was the first in a two-part series hosted by CSBA addressing strategies, investments and best practices that can guide schools as they prepare for summer school and extended learning initiatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the lives of students and exacerbated existing inequalities, said CSBA Director of Research and Education Policy Development Mary Briggs.

“Due to that impact, we know that there are going to be a high amount of student needs as we begin to return to the classroom,” Briggs stated. “Getting back to what used to be normal isn’t going to be quite good enough anymore, so we’re thinking about the ways that we can welcome our students back to school in a way that is safe and addresses all of the challenges they have faced so they’re ready to learn.”

Fortunately, federal and state resources have been allocated to help with learning recovery and students’ mental and social-emotional health. The funding provides districts the chance to offer expanded learning programs as a step toward learning recovery and important deadlines are on the horizon.

The Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant, a plan template must be adopted by the board of education by June 1, 2021 and transmitted to the county office of education no later than five days after adoption. LEAs must seek stakeholder feedback prior to adoption though it can be integrated with Local Control and Accountability Plan stakeholder feedback.

At least 85 percent of funding must go toward learning recovery and an outline of how the money will align with federal relief spending is needed. Additionally, plans for the ELO grant must incorporate required student groups, including low-income students, English learners, foster and homeless youth, those with disabilities, students who have become disengaged and those at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation. An audit of actual expenses is also required.

For the American Rescue Plan, at least 20 percent of a district’s Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) II money must go to learning recovery with a Sept. 30, 2023 deadline to obligate money. A plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services must be on the district website within 30 days of receiving ARP ESSER II funds and districts must seek public comment on their plans before making them available to the public.

What makes a good summer learning experience?

Effective summer programs shouldn’t mimic traditional summer school, noted Jessica Gunderson, senior advisor of policy and communications at the Partnership for Children & Youth. “Most of the research and practice over the last decade has moved away from summer school because it doesn’t work,” Gunderson said.

Core elements of summer learning programs = include broadening students’ horizons, having a wide variety of activities, helping children build new skills and foster cooperative learning and promotes healthy habits.

“What we do know is when you do have high-quality summer learning programs, you can really move the needle both mitigating learning loss and making gains in English and math as well as boosting social-emotional skills and language acquisition for our English learners,” Gunderson said, drawing on findings of the National Summer Learning Project. “One thing to note is that the impact of these programs is most robust when you have students involved for two summers.”

The four factors of effective programs are duration (four-to-five weeks), regular attendance, quality instruction and positive climate. Gunderson acknowledged that program duration and attendance may be difficult this summer and just bringing students to campus is what’s important in current circumstance.

To generate regular attendance, she suggested building around student needs, linking to intentional learning goals, creating a positive climate with incentives, offering a blend of academics and enrichment, focusing on quality of staff and communicating extensively with families.

“What we’ve seen in learning hubs and other reopening is that over-communication is really what can help build trust and safety with families and makes them more comfortable bringing their young people,” Gunderson said, adding that videos and pictures of daily activities can offer a great example for weary families.

Though planning for summer typically begins the previous September, that’s simply not possible for most LEAs this year. “It’s not too late,” Gunderson said. Involving stakeholders in planning from the early stages makes things go smoother and being willing to implement continuous improvements once things get going is essential.

To attract staff, advertising programs as a half-day with small class sizes and an existing curriculum are proven methods. Staffing models also incorporating community-based organizations, paraprofessionals and administrators are being used across the state.

“More than any summer we see that school districts are really planning to have more support staff like social workers, mental health workers and psychologists where they can whether it’s every day or once a week based on the trauma that many of our students have gone through,” Gunderson said.

Panelists representing West Covina USD, San Diego USD and Newman-Crows Landing USD also shared their plans for summer, including expanding offerings, encouraging staff to provide programming they’re passionate about and teaming up with local organizations.

The second webinar, “Extending Learning: Governance for Developing Effective Learning Recovery Plans,” will take place May 4 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register now and find additional resources and information at csba.org/summerlearning.

A second article published Friday, April 30, will detail the districts’ summer plans.