New summer school classes aim to reignite learning after pandemic disruptions

Just days after Gibson-Neill Memorial School’s first summer math camp, New Brunswick teacher Katie King heard loud and clear how much students – and their parents – appreciated the new initiative.

Fredericton Elementary School introduced the new program last week: over five shortened school days, King and her colleagues mixed math lessons in indoor and outdoor classroom spaces with healthy doses of physical activity.

“What surprised us the most was the enthusiasm with our children. They run and jump into the building every morning,” King said. “[Kids] going to all kinds of camps this summer, so it’s just a different type of camp for them. “

In jurisdictions across Canada, summer learning programs are in high demand, with a fresh wave of new school-based initiatives popping up this year. Educators as well as parents hope these new offerings give students a boost, give them extra time to catch up and revive their appetite after more than two years of classes disrupted by pandemics.

Math camp is not like regular school, said Julia Raynes-Willar, one of the students enrolled at Gibson-Neill. “We’re still in school, but it’s different … We play a lot at game clubs and we learn, but we usually learn more than we do in normal school.”

One parent, Heidi Giles, sent a glowing email to teachers in the middle of the week noting how her daughter Phoenix predicted the camp would be her favorite of the summer. “She loves math camp. She’s so sad that there’s only two days left,” Giles wrote.

The math lessons themselves are not new, King said, but in addition to bringing learning out more frequently, the program has a student-to-teacher ratio of five-to-one versus the more typical 21-to-one during the year.

She also said teachers began the week to “invest the children in their own learning” by surveying their interests and asking what they feel they should work on the most.

A teacher supervises two students who write mathematical equations on a large blackboard in a classroom space located outside.
Students work outside on math during Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School’s first summer math camp in Fredericton, part of a new wave of summer programs aimed at boosting student learning after two years of pandemic disruption. (Lars Schwarz / CBC)

The experience of pandemic disruptions and changes over the past few school years has made it difficult to build and maintain learning momentum, according to King, who said summer programs could be a real opportunity to address learning gaps.

“We can at least continue to make up for the learning that has been lost for the next few years.”

Summer school: small investment, big impact

School districts across the country have reported seeing more interest in their summer learning offerings, from the Burnaby school district in BC which held record one-day registrations in April, to Ontario school boards from Sudbury through the Niagara region, noting that more students for virtual report. and personal summer school and cooperative opportunities.

Dominic Cardy, New Brunswick’s education minister, also noticed a huge appetite for extra learning last month when he unveiled a wide range of new summer programs.

This new demand and enthusiasm for summer learning programs does not surprise Janice Aurini, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo who has conducted extensive research on summer setbacks – student learning loss during summer holidays.

“Across the country, our children were out of school – flipping back and forth between distance education and personal schooling – and it was a huge disruption to children’s learning. Parents see it, so I’m not surprised by the demand at all,” she said. in an interview with Burlington, Ont.

If gaps in learning are not addressed, it grows over time, according to Aurini.

In her research, she found that even two or three weeks spent on a targeted summer literacy and numeracy program – many of which are presented in a camp-like atmosphere – is a relatively small investment in time, but a big impact. may have on a struggling young learner.

A portrait of a teacher sitting in an outdoor classroom on a sunny day, with her students sitting in the background at a distance.
Grade 1 teacher Katie King says both her students and their parents showed great enthusiasm for her school’s first summer maths camp. (Lars Schwarz / CBC)

“By the soft grade three and four, if children are unable to switch from learning to reading to reading to learning … we lose those children. They are unable to keep up with their peers. not and they are becoming increasingly disconnected from school, ”Aurini said.

“It’s critical that we help our children catch up during the summer holidays so that they can go to school in September and hit the ground … and feel good about themselves.”

Getting extra support in a smaller classroom setting and regaining confidence with schoolwork is exactly what Selena Desmond wants for her 13-year-old, who is enrolled for summer tuition for the first time this year.

The Toronto parent was looking for a program for her daughter, Elizabeth Goulding, after noticing that the youngster had difficulty keeping up with the class during the year, did not always complete her assignments and could not necessarily get help. when she needed it. .

A portrait of a sociologist of education, wearing a white jacket and blue shirt.
“It is critical that we help our children catch up during the summer holidays so that they can go to school in September and hit the ground running,” says education researcher Janice Aurini, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo. (University of Waterloo)

“With the class sizes these days, teachers do not always have enough time to address each student’s needs as much as they might try,” Desmond said. “And I thought, ‘Summer school is great. Class sizes are much smaller and kids get more one-on-one time with the teachers.’

She pointed out that although Elizabeth was initially against the summer school idea, the teenager was already much more involved in her learning.

“She achieves more literally in just the one week she has been here than she would have finished at school [normally]. “

In addition to getting easier help when she has questions, Elizabeth said what was also great was more choice with assignments.

For example, she enjoys her current “action project” – she was chosen to explore access to clean water in indigenous communities – far more than some previous history lessons that focused mainly on Europeans and wars. “I feel it’s better if I can choose,” Elizabeth said.

Focus on engagement, rebuilding trust

At the elementary level, summer programs at schools are not typically remedial; they focus on enrichment and engagement while teachers try to bridge learning gaps, said DeAndra Mitchell, the summer program site leader at Winchester Jr. and Sr. Public School in Toronto, where Elizabeth is enrolled, said.

A smiling mother stands with one arm wrapped around her 13-year-old daughter, also smiling, in the shadow of a schoolyard.
Selena Desmond, right, enrolled her daughter Elizabeth Goulding in a summer school program for the first time this year, hoping to rebuild her confidence in learning after several years of classroom disruption due to COVID-19. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

“[With] the ins and outs of the past two years … Hopefully this little extra month and small class sizes will help boost their confidence and bridge some of the literacy gaps we noticed, ”said Mitchell, who is also the school’s deputy principal.

“The children are here for their academy, but the number one thing I want [summer school] to be is fascinating … I want the children to will come here every day. “

Winchester’s new summer program mixes a STEAM focus (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with fun activities such as author visits, gardening workshops, African drumming and Soca dance, presented with community partners. This year’s issue accommodates students from kindergarten to grade 8, in English and French Immersion, both personally and virtually.

“My goal is for them to walk away from here and learn something they did not know before and were happy and excited to be here,” Mitchell said.

A deputy in an orange dress stands outside a school entrance next to a mosaic mural.
DeAndra Mitchell, vice president of Winchester Jr. and Sr. Public School, is the main leader for the Toronto school’s new summer program. The half-day, July-long program includes students from Kindergarten to Grade 8, both those studying in English and those in French Immersion. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

Sanai Morrison’s first summer school experience so far has been filled with challenging STEM exercises and opportunities to meet new people, while also letting her work on French, which according to the immersion student has taken a hit over the past few years due to repeated pivots. between in-person and online learning.

“It’s really great that I can experience a different environment. I don’t know anyone and I had a great opportunity to learn French, so that’s what I’m really happy about,” the 12-year-old said. who enrolled at Winchester this month but usually attends another school.

a 12-year-old student stands and smiles outside a school building.
Sanai Morrison enrolled at summer school for the first time in hopes of improving her French skills, which, according to the immersion student, declined due to repeated pivots between online and personal learning. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

With the summer program lasting half of the regular school day and only during the month of July, she thinks it keeps a good balance, allowing time for hangouts with friends and academic improvement.

“In September, I will feel much more confident about the knowledge I have, because I had one-on-one time [with teachers] and I worked on it in the summer school. “

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