New summer school classes aim to revive learning after pandemic disruption

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Just days after the start of Gibson-Neill Memorial School’s first summer math camp, New Brunswick teacher Katie King was already hearing loud and clear how much students — and their parents — appreciate the news. initiative.

Fredericton Elementary School launched the new program last week: Over five condensed school days, King and his colleagues mixed math lessons in indoor and outdoor classrooms with healthy doses of physical activity.

“What surprised us the most was the enthusiasm of our children. They run and jump around the building every morning,” King said. “[Kids] are going to camps of all kinds this summer and so it’s just a different type of camp for them.”

In all jurisdictions across Canada, summer learning programs are in high demand, with a new wave of new school-based initiatives springing up this year. Educators and parents hope these new offerings will give students a boost, give students more time to catch up, and rekindle the appetite to learn again, after more than two years of classrooms disrupted by the pandemic.

Math camp is not like regular school, said Julia Raynes-Willar, one of the students enrolled at Gibson-Neill. “We’re still in school, but it’s different… We play a lot in the play club and we learn, but mostly we learn more than in normal school.”

One parent, Heidi Giles, sent a glowing email to teachers midweek, noting how her daughter Phoenix predicted the camp would turn out to be her favorite of the summer. “She loves math camp. She’s so sad there are only two days left,” Giles wrote.

The math classes themselves aren’t new, King said, but in addition to bringing learning outside more often, the program has a student-teacher ratio of five to one versus the more typical 21. for one during the year. .

In addition, she said teachers started the week to “engage the children in their own learning” by assessing their interests and asking them what they think they need to work on the most.

Students work on math outdoors during the first math summer camp at Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School in Fredericton, part of a new wave of summer programs aimed at helping to student learning after two years of pandemic disruption. (Lars Schwarz/CBC)

Pandemic disruptions and shifts over the past school years have made it difficult to create and sustain a learning momentum, according to King, who said summer programs can be a real opportunity to help fill gaps. learning gaps.

“We could continue this for the next few years, at least, to sort of catch up on the learning that has been lost.”

Summer school: small investment, big impact

School divisions across the country have reported seeing greater interest in their summer learning offerings, from the Burnaby School District in British Columbia touting record single-day enrollment in April, to school boards across the country. Ontario from Sudbury to the Niagara Region noting that more students are enrolling in virtual classes and in-person summer school and co-op opportunities.

New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy also noted a huge appetite for extra learning last month when unveiling a wide range of new summer programs.

This new demand and enthusiasm for summer learning programs comes as no surprise to Janice Aurini, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, who has done extensive research on summer setbacks – student learning loss during the summer holidays.

“Across the country, our children have been out of school – alternating between distance learning and in-person instruction – and it has disrupted children’s learning tremendously. Parents see it, so I’m not surprised by the demand at all,” she said in an interview in Burlington, Ont.

If gaps in learning aren’t filled, they increase over time, according to Aurini.

In her research, she found that even two or three weeks spent in a focused summer literacy and numeracy program – many of which are presented in a camp atmosphere – is a relatively small investment of time, but can have a major impact on a struggling young learner.

Portrait of a female teacher sitting in an outdoor classroom on a sunny day, with her students sitting in the distance in the background.
Grade 1 teacher Katie King says her students and their parents were enthusiastic about her school’s first summer math camp. (Lars Schwarz/CBC)

“At the end of grades three and four, if kids aren’t able to move from learning to read to reading to learn…we lose those kids. They are not able to keep up with their peers and they become more and more disengaged. school,” Aurini said.

“It’s essential that we help children catch up over the summer holidays so they can start school in September and start running…and feeling good about themselves.”

Getting extra support in a smaller class and regaining confidence in her schoolwork is exactly what Selena Desmond wants for her 13-year-old, who is enrolled for the first time this year in summer learning.

The Toronto parent sought out a program for his daughter, Elizabeth Goulding, after noticing the youngster struggled to keep up in class during the year, didn’t always finish her homework and wasn’t necessarily able to get help when she needed it. .

Portrait of expert educational sociologist, wearing white blazer and blue shirt.
“It is essential that we help children catch up during the summer holidays so that they can start school in September and start running,” says education researcher Janice Aurini, associate professor at the University of Waterloo. (University of Waterloo)

“With class sizes these days, teachers don’t always have enough time to meet every student’s needs as much as they can try,” Desmond said. “And I was like, ‘Summer school is great. The classes are much smaller and the kids have more one-on-one time with the teachers.'”

She pointed out that while Elizabeth was initially against the idea of ​​summer school, the teenager is already much more engaged in her learning.

“She literally accomplishes more in just a week that she is here than she would have ended up in school [normally].”

As well as making it easier to get help when she has questions, Elizabeth said what’s also great is more choice with homework.

For example, she enjoys her current “action project” – she was chosen to look at access to clean water in indigenous communities – much more than some past history lessons that focused primarily on Europeans and the wars. “I feel like it’s better when I can choose,” Elizabeth said.

Focus on engagement, rebuild trust

At the elementary level, summer programs in schools are generally not remedial; they focus on enrichment and engagement as teachers attempt to bridge learning gaps, said DeAndra Mitchell, site manager for the summer program at Winchester Jr. and Sr. Public School in Toronto, where Elizabeth is registered.

A smiling mother stands with an arm wrapped around her 13-year-old daughter, also smiling, in the shaded area of ​​a schoolyard.
Selena Desmond, right, enrolled her daughter Elizabeth Goulding in a summer school program for the first time this year, hoping to rebuild her confidence in learning after several years of classroom disruption due to COVID -19. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

“[With] the ins and outs of the last couple of years…I hope this extra little month and small class size will help boost their confidence and address some of the literacy gaps we’ve noticed,” said Mitchell, who is also the school principal. deputy director.

“The children are here for their studies, but the first thing I want [summer school] be engaging…I want the kids to want to come here every day.”

Winchester’s new summer program blends a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) focus with fun activities like author tours, gardening workshops, African drumming and Soca dancing, presented with community partners. This year’s edition welcomes students from kindergarten to grade 8, in English and French immersion, in person and virtually.

“My goal is for them to come back here learning something they didn’t know before and to be happy and excited to be here,” Mitchell said.

A vice principal in an orange robe stands in front of a school entrance next to a mosaic mural.
DeAndra Mitchell, vice-principal of Winchester Jr. and Sr. Public School, is responsible for the Toronto school’s new summer program. The half-day program, lasting July, includes students from kindergarten to grade 8, both those studying in English and those in French immersion. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

So far, Sanai Morrison’s first summer school experience has been filled with stimulating STEM exercises and opportunities to meet new people, all while letting her work on French, which, according to the immersion student, has taken a hit in recent years due to repeated pivots between in-person and online learning.

“It’s really great to be able to experience a different environment. I don’t know anyone and I had a great opportunity to learn French, so that’s what I’m really happy about,” said the 12-year-old , who is enrolled in Winchester this month but normally attends another school.

A 12-year-old student stands smiling in front of a school building.
Sanai Morrison first enrolled in summer school in hopes of improving her French skills, which the immersion student says has declined due to repeated pivots between learning online and in person. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

With the summer program lasting half the normal school day and only during the month of July, she thinks it strikes a good balance, allowing for outings with friends as well as academic improvement.

“In September, I will feel a lot more confident about the knowledge I have, because I had some one-on-one time. [with teachers] and I worked on it in summer school.”

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