Summer school enrollments have increased for Fresno Unified Schools after a difficult year of distance learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
About 17,000 FUSD students attended the first day of summer school on Monday, the highest number in at least four years, district officials confirmed. Many parents who spoke with The Bee’s Education Lab said they were concerned that their students were falling behind academically while learning at home.
But what is called “learning loss” or “unfinished learning” is difficult to measure. Fresno Unified officials say they’re still working on a program that they believe will help determine where students are academically compared to where they should be by grade-level standards.
According to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, about 83% of parents said children fell behind academically during the pandemic, 64% said students were “seriously behind.”
Summer student Keyera Dickson said it’s easier to stay motivated with in-person learning.
“If you’re home alone you won’t get the help you need,” she said.
Dickson said that during the pandemic she usually kept her camera off because she had many distractions in her house. With the summer camp in person, she said she could get help from her teachers and fellow students.
“We were just laughing there, having a good time, but if I was online I wouldn’t even know anyone and I wouldn’t even want to turn on my camera,” Dickson said.
But parents and teachers are also trying to balance learning concerns about grades and graduation credits with the mental health needs of their students, many of whom have been traumatized after living in fear for longer. one year.
The pandemic, coupled with months of nationwide social unrest and, in California, months of wildfires that have driven people from their homes, has rekindled fears about how young people are coping. . These last months, school and health officials have issued warnings about increasing drug use and reports of self-harm among students.
Such worries led Katie Jerkovich to give her daughter a learning break by skipping summer school altogether.
“After the hell they’ve been through this year because of our advice, they 100% need a break and go back to school as usual in the fall. I will not make them suffer any more, ”said Jerkovich.
Other parents, like Erika Ireland, remain concerned about coronavirus infections even as cases continue to slow amid rising vaccination rates. She wants her son to continue learning online for now.
“I am not ready for my child to go to school in person until there is a vaccine for the children,” Ireland said. “I’m not so worried that he will get COVID as I am about the aftermath.”
But for many parents who urge their children to catch up on schoolwork, frustrations grow over FUSD summer school options, which parents say are too limited in terms of classroom space and academic opportunities.
Academies and summer camp
Distance learning remains an option for many FUSD students this summer, but district leaders have encouraged parents to enroll students in the traditional summer school.
“We are confident that the more students we can bring back to campus, the more successful they will be,” said Jeremy Ward, assistant superintendent of college and career preparation at the Education Lab. “Whether it’s filling learning gaps or getting the credits you need to graduate, it all works best in person. “
After only two days of summer camp, teachers and students reported feeling the benefits of in-person learning.
Krishnna Reyes, a Roosevelt high school teacher in vocational technical education, is working with professors from Reedley College and New Vision Aviation to teach FUSD students about aviation and engineering this summer.
Reyes said the aviation summer camp teaches children the practical application of math and the fundamentals of physics.
“You get more perspective in the math of building a rocket. I didn’t figure it out until the teacher broke the math. I couldn’t write 1/4 on a ruler. It gave me a different perspective on learning math, ”said student Zamaury Dickson.
In addition to hands-on learning, Reyes said the students bonded.
“They don’t all come from the same school. You have several high schools here and different grades, so they come out of their homes all year round. From what I see, they love it. They didn’t even know each other, but now they’re bonding, and I think that socio-emotional piece is what was missing, ”Reyes said.
Many parents remain frustrated despite more summer school options
But as Fresno Unified bolstered summer school enrollment, many parents, such as those whose children are learning English, said they remained frustrated with what they described as too few options. and poor communication from schools.
Ireland wanted her son to take bilingual immersion online classes during the summer to help him learn Spanish. But that was not an option for her because, she said, her son is getting good grades, and most of the FUSD summer courses are aimed at helping students who need to fill their learning gaps. or catch up on their graduation credits.
“Teachers need to recommend children who need summer schooling,” Ireland said.
Ireland eventually made a deal with schools to allow her son to use an online Spanish academic program, but said she remained concerned about limited space for students learning English.
“There is only one teacher teaching for the DI program,” Ireland said. “You really only have a small amount of student places available. This is the part that, as a parent, frustrates me. “
Parents like Alis Aleman have said that Fresno’s EL students have traditionally lagged behind other students in the city in terms of test scores and graduation rates, and, like many parents, she feared the pandemic do not widen this gap further. Aleman wants his daughter to attend EL summer school, but said that was not an option as the limited class size was reserved for lower performing students who need help accumulating credits.
Students classified as English learners make up 18% of the entire Fresno Unified student body, according to the Californian school dashboard.
Communicating with the more than 73,000 families in the district has been a huge challenge since the early days of the pandemic and remains difficult despite improvements over time, FUSD officials acknowledged.
Although the district has sent out phone messages, emails and social media posts, “communicating with students who are not in school is a challenge,” Ward said.
“It’s complicated,” he added.
But these complications compound the frustrations of at least some parents who said they tried to be proactive about summer school enrollment but struggled to get information from schools.
Parent Esmeralda Diaz said she received a call from the district informing her that her daughter was enrolled in summer school, but, said Diaz, the FUSD employee who called couldn’t tell which ones classes or even what school her child was supposed to attend.
“Even now, no one has given me concrete information,” Diaz told Ed Lab in an interview last week.
Parent Francisca Damaso said she had a similar experience trying to figure out how many days a week and exactly when her child should show up for class.
But even after those issues were resolved, Diaz said she remained unhappy with the options available to students learning English. Summer English courses would be a big help and a good place to start, she said, instead of just a few weeks.
“Because we all know the student reclassification exams take place in September and October,” Diaz said.
Damaso is also not happy with the summer academies, but believes that they are still necessary for her daughter to be successful.
Bridging academic gaps
Fresno Unified students have two options for summer school locally.
FUSD’s summer academies serve as a more study-oriented summer school that helps students recoup their graduation credits and fill certain learning gaps.
Elementary and high school students have chosen between online and in-person summer school, while all high school summer courses will be taught in person. High school students who wish to recover their credits online can do so through the JE Young program.
But as school leaders across the country scramble to help students catch up, after a year of stress and trauma, FUSD officials say their summer courses are more about helping students. to feel supported and less to get grades.
Kindergarten to Grade 8 students will not receive grades for their summer schoolwork. The goal of summer academies for these students is to help the child reach the math or reading levels at which they should be based on their grade level.
Students can enroll in summer camps and summer academies simultaneously, combining both study and fun, Ward said.
“It’s more like seeing where they are at with some really important skills and supporting those skills. “
The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights educational issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn more about The Bee’s Education Lab on our website.