Here’s what the summer school showed teachers about learning loss in a pandemic
Wednesday in room 128 inside Fairview Elementary School, not far from a bulletin board in the hallway that said “Welcome to Summer School”, decorated with a yellow sun wearing sunglasses, Stephanie Buchanan stood in front of students who had just finished first grade. It was almost lunchtime and Buchanan read the pairs of words, stopping to invite the students to repeat them to him and to say a thumbs-up if they were rhyming or not.
She inspected the room, asking the students if they thought the words were rhyming, and if not, why. She asked them if the end of the words sounded the same and repeated them out loud, emphasizing the end of the words.
From June 7 to July 1, without classes on Fridays, Monroe County Community School Corp. offered summer school for incoming second graders to incoming eighth graders at Fairview Elementary School. About 370 students attended, according to Fairview principal Marti Colglazier. Classes focused on reading comprehension, test preparation and other academic skills, and teachers say students have made progress throughout the summer. For some students, this was their first experience re-entering the world of face-to-face learning.
Summer school also came with a change from 6 feet of social distancing to 3 feet.
Before the rhyming exercise, Buchanan sat on the floor to work with a group of three students, reading and speaking words. Buchanan told the group that they all sounded louder than they did at the start of summer school.
“I’m basically a reading expert now! Said a young girl from the group.
Times like this, where students feel confident and recognize their growth, are what matters most to Buchanan.
“They’re proud of themselves which is huge because it helps them a lot to want to try new things and be ready to do things that are more difficult for them,” Buchanan said.
Individualized reading aid
During the school year, Buchanan teaches kindergarten at Arlington Heights Elementary School. The 2020-21 school year marked its 12th year of teaching, and this summer was its fifth teaching summer school.
Some may wonder what can be accomplished in just 16 days of summer school, but teachers have experienced significant growth, Buchanan said.
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Buchanan said the students she worked with missed the last nine weeks of kindergarten during the pandemic, a crucial time for learning, so much of the first year was focused on catching up. This summer Buchanan worked with students on basic reading skills such as decoding or pronouncing parts of words and then putting them together. Students may have strong skills like reading words in isolation, but need help so they can put everything together to understand what they are reading, she said.
During summer school, with usually three teachers in the classroom, most of the day is spent in small groups really targeting the skills students struggle with, Buchanan said.
“They’re getting this more individualized education instead of trying to teach a whole class of kids something that maybe four of them need but the other 10 don’t,” Buchanan said. “In the group of three or four, the kids are really able to get exactly what they need during the time they spend with this adult.”
Buchanan said a lot of the students come from Arlington and she knows their teachers, so during the new school year they can pick up where they left off and keep the students on a forward trajectory.
In an upstairs classroom, Heather Rhodes sat at a table with three students who completed their third year of school last year. During the school year, Rhodes teaches the sixth grade at Summit Primary School. In her 24 years as a teacher, she spent five also teaching in the summer school.
“We try to focus on the phonetics and vocabulary as well as testing skills and making sure they find the answer in the text,” Rhodes said.
The third-year summer school students were there because they had failed the state-mandated IREAD-3 test. After 14 intensive days at the summer school, they took the test again.
It was refreshing to be face to face with the students again, Rhodes said, since last summer learning had to be done virtually and some students continued online during the 2020-21 school year. Rhodes said that by coming to summer school after more than a year of learning during the pandemic, children have developed an appreciation for school and come with a purpose.
“They have been very engaged,” she said. “I think last year during COVID, because we had to go from online to in person, they missed the school structure and they missed seeing their teachers face to face every day. ”
Rhodes said Colglazier has been a great summer school leader over the years. Shawn Gobert, deputy principal of Fairview, has overseen the college section of the summer school and will assume the role of principal of Fairview on July 28.
Teaching English as a New Language
Throughout the summer, Jenny Noble-Kuchera worked with 16 students from three different levels (second, third and fourth) to teach English as a New Language (ENL). During the school year, she teaches ENL to Kindergarten to Grade 6 students at Binford and Rogers Elementary Schools.
Each day there is small group time to focus on reading comprehension, she said.
“There’s also what we call word work,” Noble-Kuchera said. “And it can (be) anything (to) work on,” What is a verb? (To) ‘How do times change when you look at the weather?’ to prefixes, to syllables. We have done a lot of work on the syllables; we worked a lot on rhymes. So just overall language development, and then we also write every day.
The students also worked on a large project where they researched a topic of their choice, which they loved, Noble-Kuchera said. The main focus was how do you read to find facts? What do good researchers do? Each student wrote a bibliography and learned when to use direct quotes or paraphrase.
“Oh my God, we had kids looking for Legos, we had kids looking for famous people,” Noble-Kuchera said. “A lot of them are researching their country of origin, because some of them are international students, so they researched Vietnam or China. So we really try to make sure that they acquire a lot of language, speech, language, oral language development, as well as vocabulary and reading.
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Many of the students in Noble-Kuchera’s summer class were online learners who struggled with this format and needed additional language support, she said.
“I think there is a greater disparity in what the children may have learned over the past year, depending on how they have learned,” Noble-Kuchera said. “Some children are later than they normally would be due to their learning situation in the past 15 months.”
Back to school in person
Noble-Kuchera said one benefit this summer was that many online students returned to school in person for the first time since before the pandemic.
“When you’re 8 years old and haven’t been with a peer group since March 2020, it’s exciting. It’s huge, ”Noble-Kuchera said. “It’s socially, emotionally, like they’re on the moon.”
Noble-Kuchera taught for 17 years and felt there were a lot of teachers who have had a very stressful year because of COVID-19. His was stressful, she said, but not as much as the others.
“So, I kind of said to myself, ‘OK, if I’m going to do summer school, this is the year to do it because I still have some juice left in my tank'”, Noble-Kuchera said. “A lot of people haven’t, and that’s okay.”
The MCCSC also offers summer courses and other summer learning opportunities for high school students. More information is available on the MCCSC website. The first day of the 2021-2022 school year is August 4 for the MCCSC and the district will continue to offer an online option.
“In general, I feel like it has been extremely beneficial for them academically and socially,” Noble-Kuchera said of the summer school. “Fingers in the nose.”