Summer school offerings are historically reserved for academically struggling students or those with special needs. This year, though, pandemic-related school closures have increased the number of students who will need extra support during the upcoming summer months.
In February, Governor DeWine recognized this need and called on public schools to create extended learning plans. Such plans are particularly important in places like Cleveland. The city is home to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), the second largest district in the state. The vast majority of CMSD students are economically disadvantaged and students of color. They live in one of the most disconnected cities in the nation, and the lack of wireless internet and internet-enabled devices made the transition to remote learning especially difficult. To make matters worse, pre-pandemic issues like chronic absenteeism were exacerbated by school closures. Almost nine months after schools initially closed their doors, thousands of students in Cleveland were still missing from school.
If there’s one district that needs to take full advantage of the upcoming summer months to get students back on track, it’s Cleveland. Fortunately, CMSD appears to be on the right path. The plan available on the Ohio Department of Education’s website is pretty bare bones, but the district’s website offers far more detail about their extended learning efforts. That includes information on their most important recovery effort—summer school.
Known as the CMSD Summer Learning Experience, the program comprises two four-week sessions with a break in between for the Fourth of July holiday. Registration opened on May 3, and all students who are in grades pre-K through twelfth grade and are enrolled or pre-registered with the district are eligible to attend. Breakfast and lunch will be provided, and students can sign up to attend for either a half or full day.
For students in grades K–8, the district has identified more than a dozen learning sites, or “clusters,” spread throughout the city. Each site contains at least one school building that will house programming. The district website organizes these sites by neighborhood and identifies the specific buildings where students will spend each day. Transportation is free, but will operate like a shuttle service. That means that to catch a bus to their learning site, students will need to travel to a school that’s been identified by the district as a pickup and drop-off location. Meanwhile, at the high school level, students will be given public transit passes to travel to their learning sites.
The Summer Learning Experience is designed to address three core areas: Finish, Enrich, and Engage. Finish, which occurs every morning from 8:30–10:30 a.m., allows students to recover lost learning and participate in credit recovery or acceleration. The Enrich period—from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.—consists of project-based programs that allow students to immerse themselves in a particular area of interest. After lunch and until the day ends at 4:00 p.m., students will participate in Engage activities led by a variety of community partners.
Although this basic schedule will be in place for most learning sites and across all grade levels, there are a few key differences between what’s available for students in grades K–8 and what’s available for high schoolers. Here’s a brief overview.
The Finish period consists of ninety minutes of math or English language arts. The district has offered vague descriptions about what students will learn during these sessions—fourth and fifth graders, for example, will focus on whole numbers, fractions, and “big ideas in reading and writing”—but there isn’t much detail. It’s unclear who will be teaching students, how they’ll identify the extent and specifics of each student’s unfinished learning, and how they’ll assess whether students have mastered the content and caught up. It’s possible that the district already has these details worked out, but that information isn’t included on their public-facing site.
This will be project-based learning time, and there are a variety of “courses” that students can choose to participate in. Projects are divided into certain areas—the arts, STEM, humanities, Love the Land (projects with a Cleveland focus), and high school transition—and the district has provided a course descriptions flyer listing all the options. It’s important to note, though, that some courses are only available at certain sites. For example, only students in grades 1–3 who attend the Halle learning site can participate in “STEM Fairy Tales,” while students in grades 4–6 at fourteen different sites will be able to participate in “How Journalism Can Shape the World.”
In the afternoon, students will have the option to participate in camps and activities like sports, band, and creative writing. As is the case with project-based learning during the Enrich period, each school site has its own community partner and thus its own programming (though some partners are working at multiple sites). The list of community partners includes organizations like the Cleveland Playhouse, the Boys and Girls Club, the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association, and After School All Stars.
Unlike their younger peers, who will spend their Finish period focused solely on ELA or math, high schoolers have more flexibility. Students who failed to earn credit for a course they took during the 2020–21 school year will be able to make up that credit in one of two ways. The first, called the FuelEd program, allows students to work their way through a self-paced, online credit recovery program. The second, referred to as the flexible credit earning option, permits students to recover credit by demonstrating mastery in the specific concepts and skills they failed to master during the year. To participate in this option, students must develop a plan with their current teacher and work closely with their summer experience teacher. This sounds like a promising option because it allows students who only have a few gaps to focus all their energy on their weakest areas. But without clear guardrails and goals—which aren’t outlined on the site if they do exist—such an option is also wide open to gaming.
Students who don’t need to recover credits can participate in a college readiness course that focuses on ACT/SAT prep. A separate course that focuses on Accuplacer prep will also be offered at the Design Lab site. Finally, in addition to credit recovery and college prep, high schoolers at certain learning sites will have the opportunity to earn credit in courses they haven’t taken before, like Spanish, American history, vehicle maintenance and customization, “coding is life,” and intro to sports medicine.
The Enrich period for high school students consists of project-based programs, with course availability depending on the learning site. As is the case with younger students, projects fall into certain categories—the arts, STEM, humanities, and Cleveland-focused programs known as “I Love the Land.” High school students will also have access to career-tech projects, such as “Culinary Camp: Addressing Food Deserts” and “Be the Boss: The Business Plan from Dream to Reality.”
Just like their younger peers, high schoolers will have the opportunity to spend the afternoon engaged in clubs, athletic camps, and other activities led by a variety of community partners.
As is the case with most extended learning plans, it’s difficult to know whether CMSD’s Summer Learning Experience will get students back on track. There’s certainly plenty of potential. The project-based learning options for both K–8 and high school students look rigorous and engaging, and partnering with community organizations is always a good idea. But there are also some big question marks surrounding the Finish portion of the day. For younger students, it’s unclear whether they’ll receive instruction in math and ELA every day, and if or how that instruction will be tailored to their specific learning needs. The transportation plan is also questionable, as it requires families to get their students to a district building to catch a bus rather than being able to catch one at a neighborhood stop. Meanwhile, at the high school level, offering online credit recovery to students who likely struggled with remote classes doesn’t seem like the best option for catching students up. And overall, there doesn’t appear to be a clear method for measuring whether students made academic progress over the course of the summer.
But implementation is everything, and extended learning at this scale has never been done before. Families and advocates in Cleveland should keep a close eye on how the Summer Learning Experience progresses once it starts. In the meantime, though, at least the district has a plan in place to offer students more opportunities to learn and grow.