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June 29, 2021

Philadelphia students begin expanded summer school to catch up after a year of virtual learning

Thousands of students are participating in extra academic work to prepare for classes in the fall

Education COVID-19
School District of Philadelphia Summer Program Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia kicked off its summer programming Monday to help students catch up after a year of virtual learning.

The past year was challenging both academically and socially for students as they navigated virtual learning and the stress of the pandemic.

The School District of Philadelphia partnered with the city to offer an expanded summer school program to help students prepare for classes this fall and make up for lost time after being out of the classroom during most of the past school year.

"After a year of virtual learning, we understand that more than ever, our students will be seeking academic support, opportunities to connect with their peers over the summer, and help in preparing to return to in-person learning in the fall of 2021," the district said. "We have designed our summer programming to meet the challenges we know our students face right now." 

Students tend to experience "learning loss" during summer vacation called the "summer slide," — even in normal years. But the pandemic has made the need for learning maintenance even more important.

"Because they’re not engaging in learning every day, students can forget what they learned during the school year," district officials said. "Summer learning programs are proven to maintain and advance students’ academic and social growth."

A report from Horace Mann showed more than half of public school teachers said the pandemic caused "significant" learning loss over the last academic year, CNBC reported.

Those surveyed in the report said summer school could help make up for lost in-person instruction time.

The district's summer program includes enrichment activities like art and sports and will feel like a full-day summer camp experience. Officials said they are using federal COVID aid to help pay for the extra costs of the summer programs. 

While summer programs are offered every year, the demand has increased significantly this year. Roughly 15,000 students are registered for the expanded programs, when typically just 4,000 to 5,000 enroll each year, 6ABC reported.

The district said it had to boost summer program locations to 26 sites after the increase in registration.  

The district partnered with the city's Office of Children and Families, the University of Pennsylvania, William Penn Foundation, Read2Succeed and the Philadelphia Youth Network to make the program possible.

Mayor Jim Kenney spoke with school district leaders Monday at William Hunter Elementary in Kensington to mark the start of the program.

"As an educator, as a grandparent, I know how important it is for our young people to have access to programs like these over the summer," Superintendent Dr. William Hite said, 6ABC reported.

The state is offering some support to educators as well. The Pennsylvania Department of Education created a toolkit and learning guide for school leaders to address the overall learning loss caused by the pandemic and offer resources going into the upcoming school year. 

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