State mandates schools offer summer classes next two years

SUMMER SCHOOL – Summer school in Humboldt began last week. Bus driver Jason Wiles checks in students for his route. Buses run routes in the mornings and afternoons, Monday through Friday. Summer school is free to all Humboldt students and includes breakfast, lunch and snacks. Site coordinator Anthony Ballard (in background) keeps a keen eye on students as they board the buses.

by Danny Wade

Even though the 2020-21 school year ended a couple of weeks ago, that doesn’t mean school is out just yet. Summer school began for Humboldt City Schools on June 1.

Humboldt has always held summer school sessions but this year is different. The state of Tennessee has mandated all public schools hold summer school to help students catch up in their studies. Learning loss is a term used frequently during the pandemic with so many changes for students and teachers.

Last week, Interim Superintendent Lillian Shelton, Federal Programs Director Jennifer Roten, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Renette Coleman and HJSHS Principal Carla Brown sat down to discuss how summer school looks different this year.

There are many differences this summer but for teachers, a huge difference is the pay. Shelton said teachers are getting $2,000 per week as their salaries. Other positions such as school nurses, bus drivers, teacher aids and P.E. instructors are being well-paid at $1,000 per week. Shelton noted it wasn’t that long ago teachers were paid $1,000 a month during summer school.

These salaries are made possible through government funding, ESSER (Emergency and Secondary School Emergency Relief). HCS is pulling funds through three rounds of approved funding, ESSER 1, 2 and 3.

Even though the state mandated all Tennessee public schools to hold summer school, it is optional for students to attend. Shelton said she is pleased with the number of students attending summer school during the first week.

“In the lower grades, 1-5, we have about 30- to 50-percent of students taking advantage of summer school,” Shelton said. “The numbers are lower for grades 6-12, around 20-percent. But students are still coming in.”

Summer school in Humboldt is free, and is funded by the state and the Humboldt school system. Classes are being held at two schools, Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School and East Elementary School. Grades 1-5 attend school at East while 6-12 go to HJSHS. For grades 6-12, summer school runs June 1 through June 28. Grades 1-5 runs a little longer, June 1 through July 13.

One factor the state looked at for summer school was acclimating students and staff back to a normal school day with all students in person. For some students who chose to be virtual students in 2020-21, these students have not been in a classroom for a year and a half. Shelton said the schools have counselors and social workers to help students who may struggle getting back in the groove of a normal school day.

“We want to prevent learning loss due to COVID,” Dr. Coleman noted. “We’re investing in our kids.”

Dr. Coleman said the state required summer school is a two-year program, so summer school in Tennessee will not only be this summer but next summer as well. She said this is a beneficial way to track student learning and know where each student stands, which areas they are proficient or areas that may need more attention.

Summer school runs from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., just like a normal school day. For grades 1-8, there are two hours of reading, two hours of math, one hour of intervention, one hour of streaming activities and one hour of physical activities. Students in grades 9-12 do not have a set amount of time in each course. Instead, students focus on areas of need. All students receive breakfast, lunch and snacks.

The state required grades 1-8 to have pre and post exams. Humboldt did this for 9-12 students as well even though it was not mandatory. Another requirement from the state is teacher to student ratio cannot exceed 1 to 13. Shelton said during non-pandemic year, there might be one teacher to 20 or 25. Most classes also have an assistant or teacher’s aid.

“Safety is a priority,” noted Roten. “We are providing hand sanitizer and masks. We do temp checks every morning and follow new CDC guidelines social distancing three feet apart. Custodians are keeping the schools clean throughout the day, especially those ‘high-touch’ areas.”

Not only are students receiving specialized, targeted training, so are staff members.

“We are currently training four site coordinators—Anthony Ballard 9-12, Chandra Maclin 6-8, Charity Shepherd 3-5 and Debbie Sheehan 1-2.” Shelton explained. “They’ve been training since March, everything from opening up in the morning to closing. We always need to have people in administrative training.”

“All the training to be ready, it’s a lot of hands-on,” Ballard said of the administrative training. “Being an administrator takes a lot of work. I’m thankful they’ve allowed me this opportunity.”

With summer school just getting underway, the new school year will be here before you know it. The 2021-22 school year begins earlier than years past. The first day of school will be Thursday, July 29 and will be a half-day. The first full day will be Friday, July 30. All students will be in person for the 2021-22 school year but there will be some virtual classes available in the event a student, teacher or other staff member tests positive for COVID. That person, along with anyone in close contact, will have to quarantine. Virtual school will be available if or when this happens.

Shelton and all school administration urge students and parents to visit the school’s website, hcsvikings.org, and register online for the 2021-22 school year. There are other resources available on the website to assist students.

The COVID pandemic has robbed students of a year and a half of normal classroom instruction. Schools across the nation are doing everything possible to keep students on point and at grade level. It has been a struggle to say the least. Humboldt City Schools’ summer school program is just another piece of the educational journey to keep student learning moving forward.

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