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Virtual summer school begins in MMSD

Virtual summer school begins in MMSD

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The state approved an emergency rule expanding school districts' ability to offer online instruction over the summer to more grade levels earlier this spring.

Around 3,000 Madison Metropolitan School District students began the district’s first virtual summer school Monday.

The district announced last month it would move summer school online amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Along with that change, the district eliminated enrichment programming like art classes and engineering with LEGOs, and is not holding classes for students in 4K through second grade.

Students in grades three through 12 can take courses focused on math and literacy four or five days a week from June 22 through the end of July.

“A lot has happened in a short amount of time,” MMSD director of summer learning Nicole Schaefer said of the planning process. “There’s been an extraordinary lift by multiple departments in the school district.”

Third- and fourth-graders can take virtual math or literacy classes for two hours a day. For fifth- through seventh-graders, options include virtual math or literacy for two hours a day or a separate math bridge program for two hours a day. Fifth graders also had the choice to enroll in Virtual Middle School 101, which meets for one hour, one day a week.

Students moving from eighth grade to high school can spend up to three hours a day with virtual algebra, English 9 readiness, and academic and career readiness skills for students at risk for non-promotion.

[State education agency tells districts to ‘plan for change throughout’ 2020-21 in new guidance]

High school students have virtual credit recovery options if they previously failed a class and some initial credit opportunities.

Schaefer said Monday afternoon that “the bulk” of enrollment was for students in grades eight through 12. Over the past two years, summer school has attracted about 6,000 students per year, she said, and the district estimated that would fall to half with this year’s changes.

Students are using mostly familiar platforms for their learning, Schaefer said, including Virtual Campus for high school, iReady for math in middle school and Lexia for literacy in middle and elementary grades, among other programs at each level.

“A lot of them we purposely selected because they’re familiar,” Schaefer said. “They’re things that, not 100%, but a big chunk of our families use.”

There are two major changes from the virtual learning the district put in place this spring. High school students can earn letter grades for courses, as long as the credit they’re recovering was in a class taken before the pandemic closed schools, Schaefer said. Students up to grade 7, meanwhile, will have more direct interaction with their teachers.

“One of the focuses of summer school is to really have some additional targeted learning time for kids who really need it,” Schaefer said. “The whole premise of summer school is to serve the students who need it the most.

“What I think we were finding in the spring is that oftentimes there wasn’t a lot of Zooming or a lot of face-to-face connections, so we are really doubling down on that particular approach for our elementary and middle school.”

[Groups celebrate Juneteenth outside Madison schools]

That means students have designated times “online with their teacher at least three to four times a week,” she said.

Students participating in Madison School and Community Recreation's "essential" in-person child care, offered at eight school sites this summer, will also have the opportunity to get help from staff. MSCR staff are also reaching out to middle and high school students to offer help when possible and remain connected with them.
While some summer activities have been canceled, MSCR executive director Janet Dyer noted that others — like a limited version of the annual softball league — will begin in some form in July.

To have enrollment recognized for state funding purposes, non-high school credit classes must include “a schedule that specifies the actual or estimated number of minutes required for each activity that makes up the class,” according to guidance from the state Department of Public Instruction issued in May.

Districts are also required to ensure enrollment and attendance policies are updated to apply to online instruction. The School Board is expected to vote on a modified attendance policy at its June 29 meeting.

[Madison School Board to vote on budget June 29 with many unknowns]

Schaefer said they are monitoring weekly attendance “very closely… to make sure that we are staying on track,” in an environment they officially settled on about a month ago.

"We are going to be monitoring, as well, just kind of the systems and structures of what a virtual model looks like,” she said. “Tweaking along the way, because we know we’re not going to get it right the first time or the first week. We are going to have to continue to adjust and get better.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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