Summer of Opportunity launches for Delaware’s youth
Education has seen many challenges over the past two years. Students and families have had to deal with interrupted learning due to the pandemic, as well as limited access to summer programming. According to independent studies and student achievement data, this has resulted in notable learning deficits among many of our youth. Some people call those deficits learning loss. Some call it unfinished learning. Regardless, the effects are evident, and we, as a state, are working diligently to do something about it. The Department of Education has been working in tandem with individual school districts and charter schools to ensure that summer learning plans are in place throughout the state.
Recognizing that all students, especially disadvantaged students, have been adversely affected by the pandemic, these plans are in place to provide opportunities for robust learning to continue to occur at scale throughout the summer. We at the department have coined this summer, the Summer of Opportunity. We want students to continue to stay involved with one another and supported by skilled individuals, so that they continue to grow and thrive while waiting for the 2022-23 academic year to begin. This means, regardless of a child’s ZIP code, all students will have the opportunity to participate in a summer program that is interesting, exciting and helps them grow academically, socially and emotionally. This year’s summer programs, as always, will focus on literacy and mathematics, but there will also be various opportunities for students to experience activities that they may not have had access to previously. Those activities may include drama, the playing of an instrument, art classes, dance and more. They may also include the use of local resources such as our state and national parks where there are opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing and swimming. As a state, we hope to effectively address students’ academic and social and emotional learning in an authentic manner, allowing for as much flexibility as possible regarding pace, selection of material, content, topics, and student voice and decision-making around what interests and inspires them. And we have all come to realize that kids being engaged and involved is not only good for personal growth, but also mental health and well-being.
Measuring student progress is challenging, especially during the summer months when children are accessing different programs and activities. For some students and families, a half-day program works better than a full-day program and vice versa. Some students will attend summer programs that expose them to a lot of different content, topics, materials and experiences, while others may choose to focus on a particular topic, subject or skill. Providing children and families with many options is a good thing. However, the greater the differential in programing, the more challenging it is to measure growth. Thus, the Department of Education is working with partners to measure growth in specific summer programs using both qualitative and quantitative data. In doing so, we can determine what programs had not only the high participation rates but also produced the strongest results.
While planning for the Summer of Opportunity, we heard from our districts and charter schools as well as our community-based organizations and faith-based organizations that their greatest hurdle is staffing. Finding committed and well-trained staff to work with young people is a real challenge right now. We brought this challenge to the governor’s Family Services Cabinet Council and brainstormed ways in which this could be addressed. The answer is the creation of the governor’s Summer Fellowship program. High school students, especially those who are currently enrolled in the state’s Teacher Academy Pathway, are being identified and trained to support these summer programs in paid positions. The Workforce Support Team at the Department of Education, the governor’s office, the United Way, other community partners, and our schools and districts have worked collaboratively to launch this initiative in a short time. In fact, we have already had more than 100 high school students in our three counties apply to take part. All selected students will go through a full week of training in preparation for placement into summer programs in their communities.
While we all want the upcoming summer to be back to normal and resemble the summers of the past, we must also recognize the opportunity that sits before us: an opportunity for our state to provide as many meaningful and exciting opportunities for growth as possible for our young learners, especially those who have historically been left out in the past. A focused effort steeped in a lens of equity and access is exactly what’s needed as we move from pandemic to endemic and prepare for what will be a strong and more productive 2022-23 school year.
Find a searchable database of school and community-based partner summer offerings at de.gov/summerlearning.