In February, Governor DeWine asked all public schools to create plans designed to address the learning loss caused by pandemic-related school closures. The governor requested that schools publish them by April 1, and the Ohio Department of Education has posted them on its website to make it easier for parents and stakeholders to find them.
The importance of summer programming cannot be overstated. Although education researchers are still working to pinpoint the breadth and depth of learning loss, there’s little doubt that it has occurred and still is. Offering some type of extended learning opportunity to students who need it is crucial. This is especially true in districts with large populations of low-income students and students of color, communities that were hit especially hard by the pandemic. In Ohio, there are several districts that fit that description, including the state’s largest district, Columbus City Schools (CCS). CCS has an enrollment of nearly 50,000 students, most of whom are economically disadvantaged and students of color.
So what does CCS plan to offer students? The answer is the 2021 Summer Experience, a program that aims to “provide enriching experiences for all students in PreK through 12th grade.” The initiative begins June 15 and continues through July 22, with students attending Monday through Thursday from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. Programming will be housed in thirteen elementary schools, ten middle schools, and five high schools spread throughout the city. Transportation will be provided, as well as breakfast and lunch. The registration deadline is June 1.
As far as eligibility goes, the district appears to be trying to reach as many students as possible. There are some programs—like “enrichment extensions” or AP Bootcamp—that are capped at a certain number of seats and don’t last all summer, likely because they require staff with specialized training or knowledge. Generally speaking, though, any student who attends a district school can enroll in their grade-specific program. Summer Experience, much to CCS’s credit, is also open to students who reside in the district but don’t attend district schools. That means charter and private school students can also register to participate, free of charge.
But what, exactly, are students signing up for? Well, that largely depends on grade level. There aren’t a ton of details—we don’t know, for instance, what a daily schedule would look like for any given student—but here’s a brief overview of what’s available.
Students in grades K–5 can register to participate in “mini camps” that are modeled after summer camp experiences but are aimed at “strengthening academic skills, leadership, and social-emotional learning.” All thirteen of the elementary sites will offer the same programming, and students are free to attend whichever site they choose, which should give parents some flexibility. For instance, instead of being required to send their child to the school closest to their home, parents could opt to enroll their child at a building that’s closer to a caregiver’s home, daycare, or a place of employment.
For students in grades K–2, camps have been “inspired” by programming offered by the Franklin Park Conservatory. Students will have a chance to interact with specialists from the Conservatory both inside and outside the classroom and will take a field trip to the Children’s Garden. Each of the six weeks is devoted to a camp with a distinct theme, such as Jurassic Franklin Park, Pirate Palooza, and Summer Science Nature Detective. (See here for information on programming available for rising kindergarteners.) Camps for students in grades 3–5, meanwhile, have been modeled on COSI programming and will provide students with an opportunity to visit the science museum. These camps will also have distinct themes, such as Gadgets to Go, Mission to Mars, and Superhero Science.
Unlike their younger peers, middle schoolers won’t be attending a differently themed mini-camp each week. Instead, each school site will offer its own themed camp for the duration of the summer. Programming for these camps was designed by CCS staff and teachers in collaboration with the PAST Foundation, and will “use design-thinking strategies to solve real-world problems.” Students can choose to attend whichever camp interests them, with options including aviation, cyber security, the business side of eSports and gaming, fashion in STEM, food science, medicine, robotics, and 3D modeling. A small number of seats will also be available for middle schoolers interested in two-week long “enrichment extensions” offered at Spruce Run—the district’s environmental education center—with transportation provided. There are five options, including a Survivors Camp where students will read Hatchet by Gary Paulson and work on mastering survival skills.
At the secondary level, Summer Experience offerings get a little more complex in order to reflect the broad needs of high schoolers. There are six options:
- Credit recovery. Students in grades 9–12 who failed a course this year can complete credit recovery through APEX, the district’s virtual learning platform.
- Credit advancement. The Virtual Credit Advancement Program (VCAP) allows students in grades 10–12 to complete self-paced courses that combine technology and individualized teacher instruction. Students who successfully complete these courses will be awarded high school credit.
- Traditional summer school. Current eighth and ninth graders—rising ninth and tenth graders—can enroll in a six-week, in-person learning experience focused on interdisciplinary “community-based impact projects.” This program will be instructor-led through a partnership between CCS teachers, The Ohio State University, and the Korda Institute of Teaching. Classes include English 9, Physical Science, Algebra I, and World Studies.
- College Credit Plus. The opportunity to earn college credit will be available at several higher education institutions for students who meet College Credit Plus eligibility qualifications.
- AP Bootcamps. Students who are enrolled in AP Calculus and AP English for the upcoming 2021–22 school year can enroll in a weeklong bootcamp that will introduce them to the content and skills that will be taught in the upcoming year.
- Outdoor programs and enrichment at Spruce Run.
- Students in grades 8–11 can complete a six-week course that will give them credit for Physical Education I and II courses.
- Eleventh and twelfth grade students who have completed biology can earn a credit for environmental science—an advanced science class—by passing a six-week course that includes the completion of three independent, research-based environmental projects.
- Students can participate in a two-week Counselor-In-Training program that allows them to earn up to fifty volunteer hours per session. (Volunteer hours can be used to earn several seals needed for graduation.)
It’s hard to tell based on the limited information that’s available whether these programs will help students regain academic ground they lost over the last year. But to be fair, it would be impossible to judge any new program that’s been built from scratch in a matter of months to address fallout from a never-before-seen pandemic. There are several aspects of Summer Experience that seem promising, such as STEM-focused camps for third through fifth graders, and the wide variety of themed camps available for middle schoolers. But there are also aspects of the plan that should give parents and advocates pause. For instance, offering online credit recovery programs is probably cheap and easy. But after a year of virtual learning where many students struggled because their classes were online, having them take yet another online class seems unfair.
Overall, though, the extended learning plan put forth by CCS deserves praise. Like the summer offerings at affluent private schools and high-performing suburban districts, the CCS Summer Experience reflects an intentional effort by district leaders and teachers to offer students engaging summer programming that will improve hard and soft skills. The district has made that programming available to all of Columbus’s children, even if they don’t attend district schools. And in every grade band, the district has chosen to collaborate with at least one well-respected community partner in ways that will have a direct impact on students. There’s always room for improvement and growth, but CCS deserves a whole lot of kudos for this plan.