A few thousand Madison Metropolitan School District students are back in classrooms for six weeks this summer to accelerate their learning and find social and emotional support after a challenging 15 months in education.
MMSD is running its annual summer school programming at 21 schools for students who recently completed grades 4K-12, with a focus split between academics and social-emotional learning, an important component as the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some grades are in-person and others have virtual opportunities. Teachers are not being asked to do “concurrent teaching” as they were at the end of the school year, instructing students in-person and online at the same time.
Those who are in-person are wearing masks while inside the classroom, but able to go unmasked outdoors. That’s leading teachers to spend more time in outdoor classrooms and use space creatively at the Lincoln Elementary School site, principal Deborah Hoffman said.
On a recent Wednesday morning, for example, classes were spread around the playground. Students walked on the school’s outdoor path for a morning “brain break” during their literacy or math lesson.
“I think the grind of the regular school year is less intense in the summer, because we're really working to maintain, to not have any learning loss, and to make small gains,” Hoffman said. “The goals are different in the summer than they are in the school year. So that pressure is just a little less, and provides a little more wiggle room for, I think, some joy.”
That joy is especially important given the social and emotional challenges students faced throughout the pandemic. Many did not see their peers for months on end.
MMSD Director of Summer Learning & Integrated Supports Nicole Schaefer said the district provided extra support staff at the middle and high school levels to focus on those concepts.
District staff also adjusted the schedule for elementary students, who now stay with a single teacher throughout the morning, allowing them to build stronger relationships. Hoffman said that bond is especially important this year. Smaller student-to-teacher ratios help too.
“We are finding a lot of students have subtle trauma from just not knowing. ... You're going to school, (then) you're not going to school, and all of a sudden everything that you thought was normal is gone,” she said. “So even if there wasn't a specific trauma to reckon with as a family, we're noticing a lot of children with more anxiety and sadness.”
Hoffman aims to “make sure that we made the summer's experience as joyous and fun as we could, both for their sake and for the students' sake,” Hoffman said. “For many of our students this is just the first re-entry, and we just really have no idea what anybody's been through, from adults to kids.”
Wright Middle School summer school principal Anuradha Ebbe, who is the principal at Cherokee Heights during the school year, said everyone has learned some lessons through the pandemic. Among the most important: “Change is inevitable.”
“The learning that we all took away is that we have cognitive agility. In other words, we can be flexible and pivot,” Ebbe said. “We can take that into our strategy and be more flexible with it.”
Schaefer said this summer’s goals include seeing improvements in reading and math for younger students, 85-90% completion of credit recovery classes for high schoolers, and high engagement and attendance across the board.
“If kids are there and present, their outcomes are much greater than those who don't attend on a regular basis,” Schaefer said.
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