Mass. commits over $70 million for summer programs to combat learning loss during the pandemic | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly
Learning loss has been a significant concern for state and education leaders alike for months, as the pandemic disrupted schools in an unprecedented way, cutting off equal access to educational resources for some students.
For much of the year, an estimated 450,000 of the state’s more than 900,000 public school students were attending some form of in-person learning, either full-time or in a hybrid model. That number has risen in recent weeks as elementary and middle schools have been required to open for full-time, in-person learning.
As of Wednesday, an estimated 650,000 Massachusetts public school students are learning in school buildings, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Although teachers have often made heroic efforts to engage their students in meaningful and effective remote and hybrid learning, the reality is that in too many of these cases, educational progress has been slowed and sometimes slowed significantly,” said Education Secretary James Peyser at Friday’s press conference.
For one thing, he said, the logistics of online classes can be difficult, reducing the number of hours students spend in classes or reducing the amount of student-teacher interaction.
Many students also face unique challenges in their home workspaces, he said.
“For those students with inconsistent use of a working computer, uneven Internet access, or inadequate home workspace, these challenges often meant they were effectively shut out of school for hours or even days at a time,” he said. “And we know that in the process, far too many students missed far too many hours and days of school, and some even dropped out.”
One of newly funded initiatives is “acceleration academies,” where students will focus on just one subject in a hands-on learning environment. The academies will be supported by up to $25 million in grants from federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Response (ESSER) discretionary funds.
Early literacy academies will be offered to incoming kindergarteners, first, and second graders, and math academies will be offered to incoming third, fourth, eighth, and 10th graders. Studies continue to show that students have missed out on fundamental math and reading skills during the pandemic, Baker said.
“Academies will be much more than typical summer vacation learning camp,” Baker said. “The plan doesn’t ask schools to focus merely on academics. Kids also need opportunities to play with their friends and participate in safe environment and enrichment activities.”
The academies are expected to be a multiyear program that could impact more than 50,000 students statewide each year, according to state officials.
The state will also offer summer school matching grants, using up to $15 million in federal funds, for school districts to expand in-person academic or recreational programs lasting four to six weeks, with the addition of mental health services or other supports.
State officials also plan to offer early literacy tutoring grants, a K-8 Math Acceleration program, a Biggest Winner Math Challenge for gifted math students, college classes for rising high school juniors and seniors enrolled in approved Early College programs, and resources to help camps and other community groups expand the educational components of their already-existing summer programs.
Two other programs are geared toward the state’s youngest and oldest learners, respectively. The Summer Acceleration to College program, which will be offered at 14 community colleges, will give graduating seniors a chance to take math and English classes for credit at no cost. And the Summer Step Up program will provide support for young children who had limited in-school learning experiences during the pandemic.
Baker also announced Friday that the state’s pool testing program, which already had been offered to all school districts free of charge through the end of the academic year, has been extended through the summer. From Feb. 1 to April 25, the state has processed 61,839 pools — bundles of multiple samples — from 188 districts. Only 0.85 percent of pooled tests have come back positive for COVID-19.
Felicia Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.