Schools prepare for demand in summer programming

With the traditional school year wrapping up for many students within the next month or so, districts are preparing for summer learning.

The Minnesota Department of Education says 88 percent of school districts and charter schools held some form of distance learning at some point during the 2020-2021 school year. For some students, distance learning came with some challenges and left many kids without socialization or enriching activities.

"At this point of the year we’re really gearing up for our summer programming we want it this year to feel like it’s been an extension of the school year rather than a separate program," Rachel Gens, Director of Elementary Education Richfield School District, said

Gens says this summer students enrolled in summer programs will spend the morning working on the basics, just like any other year. They’ll focus on reading, writing and other key skills. In the afternoon, they will participate in enrichment activities like community gardening and place making using visual art in the community. One of the district’s goals, Gens says, is to give students more hands-on learning opportunities, in social settings, without screens.

"We wanted to be really intentional about having more hands on learning activities built into the program," Gens said.

Another focus for the district will be ensuring students social and mental health needs are met.

"There has absolutely been an increased need. Kids miss their friends they miss their teachers," Christina Gonzalez, director of students support services Richfield School District, said.

Gonzalez says the district has stepped up their commitment to making sure students have the kind of support they need to be successful in school, beyond academics. She and other educators have been using technology to connect more with parents and have been doing more outreach to ensure students don’t fall behind because of other stress or disparities at home.

"Every person living and existing right now from our little ones to their parents and guardians has experienced challenges and opportunities right now," Gonzalez said. "I look forward to seeing more students running around outside continuing to see gains in their social emotional learning skills and their academic skills and then really position us strongly for the fall,"

"It has been very challenging I will say," mother Veronica Velazquez Barron said.

She has six kids in the Richfield School District. Two are in middle school, three are in elementary school and her youngest, a three-and-a-half-year-old, attends a special education program. She is a single mom working full time. She says it was a challenge to keep up with her kid’s school work.

"I was able to help my kids in distance learning for two hours but the rest of the day I was not able," Velazquez Barron said. "We are still behind academically."

All six of her kids will be attending summer programs in Richfield. She says she hopes it gets them back up to speed and ready to return for, hopefully, a normal school year this fall.

"We really need the extra help we can get from the district," Velazquez Barron said.