School’s out for the summer. Except when it isn’t.

Summer school at Evanston Township High School begins today. Elementary and middle schoolers attending warm weather classes in District 65 start on Tuesday, June 14.

At ETHS, summer school director Bill Farmer says the roughly 1,200 students taking summer classes “will be the most students in the building in over a year.”

ETHS, along with all other Illinois schools, went to fully remote learning in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and only had some students back on campus when a hybrid model began in April.

Last year, summer school was entirely virtual, and because the two-week orientation for incoming 9th graders was cancelled, only about 600 students in other grades took part.

This year, “most classes are in person due to student interest,” Farmer says, and the 1,200 enrollees, including new freshmen, is “pretty much back to what 2019 was,” where about one-third of ETHS students took at least one summer course.

Unlike years gone by, however, this year credit recovery courses are free. Farmer says District 202 is using federal COVID relief money to cover the student tuition of $250 per pupil. Enrichment/advancement classes still require payment.

Farmer says summer school teachers are “excited to return to something they’re familiar with.” Being back in a mostly normal classroom (still socially distanced desks at three feet apart) is “something of a re-charge” for the faculty. Farmer says educators will no longer have to “juggle zoom” in a hybrid system of teaching some kids in person and others online simultaneously.

District 65 is expanding summer programs to help students catch up or stay current who were “adversely affected by the shift in learning design and access as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to Assistant Superintendent Stacy Beardsley.

In a recent memo to the Board of Education, Beardsley said the district is adding more programs to focus on literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and social emotional learning.

District 65 will have 1,550 summer school slots for pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8 (out of 7,300 total students in the system). Some of the programs will be run by the district, others are provided by contracting agencies such as the YMCA and private tutoring services.

Research has shown that many students stagnate academically or even lose ground during the summer. Add in remote learning and all the other disruptions from COVID this past school year and summer school is even more important.

“The programs,” Beardsley says, “are designed to mitigate summer learning loss in a variety of different ways.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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