ACPS gears up for summer learning

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ACPS gears up for summer learning
A classroom at the old Douglas MacArthur Elementary School building. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)
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By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Virtual learning will continue for the majority of Alexandria City Public Schools students during the Summer Learning for All program, which is scheduled to begin in July. An in-person instruction option will be available for certain prioritized groups of students.

Summer learning for pre-K through eighth grade will run from July 6 to Aug. 12, and an additional virtual program for selected students will take place from Aug. 2 to 12. For high school students, the program will be offered from July 6 to 30.

A Summer Learning Choice form gauging student participation that was sent out to parents May 11 closed on Monday and garnered more than 7,000 responses.

At the May 20 School Board meeting, staff indicated that ACPS jumped from 375 summer school applicants to 400. At the same time, it had not yet reached the goal of recruiting 500 to 600 licensed staff. At that time, ACPS had made 255 total staff selections with 150 completed offers. They have exceeded their goal of 60 to 70 support personnel.

ACPS Director of Recruitment and Retention Sandra Hardeman said staff is continuing to recruit teachers by posting on online job boards, sending a short questionnaire to measure employee interest and reaching out to past external staff.

While ACPS can incentivize teachers to teach during the summer, it cannot require it, as the summer months fall outside teachers’ contract time.

As a way to motivate employees to teach over the summer, staff offered those who commit to working in-person an incentive of $500 every two weeks as a one-time bonus. Those who commit will be able to work specific blocks of the summer months rather than consecutively so as to preserve flexibility.

According to staff, as of May 19, 128 teachers have left ACPS during the 2020-2021 school year. Fifteen have resigned, 31 have retired, 15 had a temporary contract, 26 resigned due to relocation, 17 resigned due to other employment and 24 resigned due to personal reasons.

While the total turnover number is currently less than the 186 teachers who left during the 2019-2020 school year, five weeks still remain for the 2020-2021 school year.

At the May 20 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. encouraged school staff to continue practicing “self-care,” acknowledging their day-to-day efforts. He also advocated for employees to assist with summer learning if they are available and willing.

“We understand that some of our staff – they are exhausted, and they just can’t do it. And we get that, but we also know that our students need some support too, so we’re asking for them to continue to work with us over the summer. We have a lot of flexibility for that,” Hutchings said.

According to ACPS Executive Director of Instructional Support Gerald Mann, schools are using a multitiered approach of support called the prioritization matrix to identify students who would most benefit from social-emotional academic learning support over the summer and would be invited to in-person learning. The goal, Mann said, is to “engage, enrich and prepare students” for August 2021.

“ACPS made the decision to end concurrent teaching at the close of the traditional school year,” Mann said in an interview. “Ending concurrent teaching allows us to focus on one modality of teaching this summer.”

However, some ACPS parents contest that staff went back on previous statements that seemed to imply summer in-person learning would be available for every student back in a March Zoom meeting.

Parent Carly Blakelock Robb said she has been looking forward to in-person summer education specifically because her kindergartener has never set foot inside a school, and her fifth grader will be attending middle school next year.

“I wanted to use summer school as a chance for my rising middle schooler to get a feel for her new school, and I wanted my kindergartener to maybe have somewhat of a kindergarten experience before she started in first grade,” Blakelock Robb said.

Blakelock Robb purposefully did not make summer plans for the month of July in order for her kids to participate in summer in-person learning.

According to Blakelock Robb, the problem isn’t so much that a prioritization matrix will be utilized to enroll only certain students for in-person learning or that staffing might be an issue. The perceived lack of transparency and accountability is what Blakelock Robb said angers her the most.

Mann said enrolling in summer learning – albeit virtual for most – is still valuable and will help to “combat the summer slide.” Participating students in pre-K through eighth grade will receive materials prior to going home for the summer to augment their virtual experience.

Activities for pre-K through fourth grade include learning activity kits that contain hands-on resources and materials for students to practice and apply academic skills.

Students currently in grades five through eight will experience a LitCamp Flex program, intended to develop their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills while participating in discussions. Each student will receive five to seven books, have access to an e-book library of over 2,500 books and investigate community issues culminating in a public demonstration of what they learned.

High school students will have the opportunity to participate in credit recovery or new credit courses, as well as enrichment opportunities listed on the ACPS website.

Summer learning is available for all students currently enrolled in ACPS, with most opportunities free aside from new courses at the high school level.

Beginning in July, most summer learning programs will be offered four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for pre-K through eighth grade and 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for high schoolers.

“This timeframe for families and staff [will allow them] to still have a well-earned break, but also engage in new learning experiences,” Mann said.

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