Almost 900 students attended summer school at Louisa County Public Schools over the past five weeks, a testament to the setbacks wrought by the coronavirus pandemic but also to the schools’ commitment to make up for lost time.
The expanded summer class program is one of many areas where the schools have expanded services, in part by using $4.5 million in federal relief aid. The schools have a plan to further address students’ academic delays over the next two years, as Amanda Hester, the schools’ assistant superintendent of instruction, told the school board on July 6.
“The reacclimation to a structured learning environment will take time,” she said. “The disjointed instruction has certainly affected student outcomes.”
Scores on Standards of Learning tests dropped in the past year at the elementary and middle school levels, she said, especially in math. To try to meet this challenge, the schools used the federal funds to hire numerous instructional assistants and “interventionists” to work in classrooms alongside teachers. The extra staff will be able to help small groups of students in the classroom or pull them out for one-on-one instruction as needed.
The beefed-up staff include two interventionists, one in reading and one in math, at each elementary school, and 12 new assistants.
“They will free up time for teachers to work with kids who are on grade level,” said Justin Grigg, director of elementary education.
The schools have also added Saturday school as an option after piloting this concept in one elementary school during the last school year.
“For some families, Saturday is the best option, and we don’t want to leave them out if they can’t do it after school,” Hester said.
Another change is extended after-school learning for students performing below grade level; this will be available twice a week for 17 weeks. In addition, librarians will play more of a role in classrooms than in the past to help integrate literacy skills in all subjects.
At the middle school, some students were required to attend summer school if they failed courses and an associated SOL test. Others were invited to summer school if they failed courses but passed the SOL test, or vice versa. Lisa Chen, director of virtual learning and middle school education, said attendance at summer school has been strong.
As the next school year starts in August, the middle school may adopt a teaming approach in some cases. A group of students who need extra support would be assigned to the same teachers for their four core classes, so teachers can better identify where students need help.
Tom Smith, who directs the schools’ secondary education program, said that along with summer school, the high school offered a “recovery boot camp” for students who needed extra time to finish classes for credit.
Besides academic troubles, the schools also have to respond to the mental and emotional trauma of students’ isolation over the past year. Four new counselors were hired at the elementary level and one at the middle school level.
“This will allow us to provide additional support to students, especially those who are highly anxious,” Chen said.
The federal funding will not enable the extra instructional assistants to stay after two years, unless some other financial mechanism can be found. The goal is for students to get back on track academically within that time period.
“We feel like one year is not going to be enough,” said Superintendent of Schools Doug Straley. “Through this two-year plan we want to make everything whole again.”