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A summer ‘bridge’ for learning growth

Though several thousand Suffolk Public Schools students are now back in school twice per week under the division’s hybrid plan, it is already looking ahead to the summer and bridging into the next school year.

Summer school in Suffolk, though it will have many familiar elements, will have a bit of a different feel when it begins in July. It will also debut a program designed to provide enrichment opportunities as a bridge between grade levels, and will integrate elements of that into its other summer programs.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, in an interview prior to the start of the hybrid program, said he is not as focused on learning loss resulting from the coronavirus pandemic as much as he is trying to build a bridge into the next school year.

“When people think of summer school, they always think of the kids who didn’t do well,” Gordon said. “No, we want to also be able to invite, basically, any kid that’s interested to get an early start on next year.”

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Okeema Branch outlined what the division is calling its SPS Summer Series during the March 11 School Board meeting.

“This year, instead of having a one-concept approach to summer school, we are looking at doing summer school in a tiered approach,” Branch said. “The tiered approach, we feel, is more appropriate, especially this year as we are recovering instruction and preparing students for the upcoming school year.”

The most intensive instruction, Branch said, would take place for students enrolled in the SPS Summer Academy program. It is for students who have failed a subject, have not grasped concepts and need more support with high-level intervention.

Gordon said this tier essentially replaces the old Standards of Learning, or SOL Academy, used for secondary students who needed to pass an SOL to graduate. It will be able to help with students who experienced more learning loss during the pandemic.

At the elementary level, the Summer Academy, which will take place on a hybrid schedule, will focus on literacy and numeracy, with extensive support provided and the SPS Summer Bridge program integrated into the daily instruction.

For middle school students, they would get four days of face-to-face instruction in English and math and receive extensive remediation, Branch said.

High school students would also get in-person instruction and SOL testing if they have failed English, math, history or science SOLs.

The middle tier would be the more traditional SPS Summer School model, in which students come in to get targeted instruction. Gordon said it would not look much different than in the past. It will still be a four-week program where students can take new classes or repeat a class they failed, but they don’t need as much support.

“They may not have grasped some concepts, but it’s recoverable, and they can move to Tier 1 instruction,” Branch said.

At the middle school level, it includes face-to-face instruction for English and math four days per week, and virtual instruction for science and social studies, with the Summer Bridge program integrated here also.

For high school students, the subject areas will include math, science, history, English, economics and personal finance, with virtual options available in English, government, economics and personal finance.

That Tier 1 instruction is the SPS Summer Bridge Program, in which it provides advanced instruction for high school students in Project Lead the Way, as well as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment students.

For elementary and middle school students, enrichment areas include computer science, fine arts, health and wellness, nutrition, STEM and world languages.

“It’s good for everyone, but we’re being more creative in how we’re going to approach the bridge program,” Branch said. “And bridge is just as it states, it’s a connection. It’s a preparation, taking them from where they are to where they need to be.”

Gordon described this as a way to get an introduction to the next course in a student’s sequence or grade level.

“We’re really going to try to make the … regular summer school and Summer Bridge fun,” Gordon said. “I want to really eliminate that mantra of ‘Oh my God, I’m in summer school, I must be dumb’ or whatever. We want to make this fun. There’s going to be a lot of STEM activities.”

Extended school year services would be available for special education students if their Individualized Education Program team feels the services are necessary because the benefits the student may have gained during the school year would be in serious jeopardy if the student does not receive those services.

Branch said all of the summer learning models are integrated and students will be working on skills they need now and into the next year.

Logistically, the SPS Summer Series will operate Monday through Thursday from July 5 through Aug. 5. The SPS Summer Academy will be from July 12 through July 29.

The SPS Summer Series will be taking place at all of the division’s elementary schools except for Nansemond Parkway and Kilby Shores elementary schools, which will have facilities projects at those locations. Nansemond Parkway students in summer school will attend Florence Bowser, and Kilby Shores students will go to Pioneer.

Normally, city elementary students in summer school would attend at one location. However, in order “to provide instruction to all of our students based on the year that we’ve had and what we anticipate, we are hosting summer programs at each of our elementary schools,” Branch said, noting the two exceptions.

Middle school students will all be at King’s Fork Middle, and high school students will be at King’s Fork High.

The ESY program will be at Elephant’s Fork Elementary for elementary, and middle and high school students needing it will go to King’s Fork Middle. All of those students will attend four days per week for the duration of the program.

Transportation will be provided, as will breakfast and lunch, and all summer school programs are free for SPS students.

Students will get to complete their classes before the regular school year ends, and then those who need it will be able to attend summer school. However, those who want to build off their skills will have opportunities through the SPS Summer Series to build a bridge to the next skill and grade level.

“To us, it’s really all about the preparation for the next grade, or the next subject, because this pandemic is not going to be a one-year solution,” Gordon said. “We’re going to see the effects of this for at least three years, at least.”