Summer School: In-School, Hybrid, or Virtual?

Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Elementary/Middle School Principal; Ed.D. in Leadership

Summer school gives educators the opportunity to work with students that have skill deficiencies in a small-group, focused program. These programs offer the possibility to overcome large class size and classroom management issues that can arise while remediating students in small groups during the traditional academic year. Further, summer school is an opportunity to close learning gaps for key students and combat the summer slide.

Yet, in many schools these programs are not planned strategically. Often summer programs are staffed based solely on seniority. In reality, summer school should be staffed with the most innovative, respected, and skilled teachers in a building. Further, students should be specifically recruited based upon need. Failing simply due to lack of effort or attendance may not be the best identifier because these issues may persist in the summer as well. Additionally, summer school should not be open to anyone who is willing to attend, as this can easily become a babysitting service.

Summer school should be carefully planned with skilled teachers working in small-groups with students who have learning gaps with a purposeful, individualized curriculum. In planning, it is important to consider feedback as both students and parents deserve specific, quality, and timely feedback. Formative assessment measures must be imbedded in the program structure. Planned instruction should be engaging, purposeful, relevant, and fun. Summer school can be an opportunity to rekindle a love of learning. Planning summer school in this manner will lead to a program that can make lasting change.

In-School Program

Summer school is a remediation program that aims to provide additional instruction to key students. Summer school typically lasts about four weeks for approximately half of the traditional school day. Many elementary and middle school summer programs focus only on reading, mathematics, and writing.

Pros

Traditional summer school offers students additional time with skilled teachers. Teachers are able to adapt instruction instantly as student needs arise. Further, schools are able to provide additional care to meet the physical and emotional needs of the students enrolled in summer school. Students need human interaction, and the traditional classroom cannot be replaced.

Cons

Cons of traditional programs mainly relate to space and access. Some students in split families may live in other towns during the summer and may not have access. Others things like parental employment may limit student access. Most importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted most traditional summer school programs.

Hybrid Program

Hybrid programs offer a blend of the traditional and virtual models of summer school. Students attend a traditional summer school program on select days or weeks, but also engage in some online instruction as well.

Pros

Hybrid programs still allow the traditional classroom experience. That is, relationships are still developed among the class. Research has shown that building productive relationships is critical to student achievement and growth. Students typically want to please and work harder for teachers that take the time to show they care. One additional pro of the hybrid program is that select students can attend on alternating days making small class size and differentiation easier.

Cons

The cons of hybrid programs largely parallel the concerns associated with traditional summer school programs. Further, the current pandemic has halted any in-person school attendance. As such, traditional and hybrid summer school programs will not be possible for most districts this summer.

Virtual Program

A virtual summer school program should have all of the quality metrics that are associated with a sound traditional summer school. Particular attention should be given to class size in developing a virtual summer school program. It is ideal to have classes of eight or less. If a district will not or cannot afford eight or less, consider small-groups with students with the most similar skill gaps. Having set office hours is recommended for a virtual summer school program. This recommendation will allow easy access for both students and parents as concerns arise.

Pros

Access and flexibility are key positives related to any type of online instructional program. Work and instruction can take place anywhere that connectivity is available. Further, summer school can proceed in a time in which many schools are closed. With careful planning, an online program can be nearly as effective as a traditional summer school program. As learning gaps have likely increased in the last couple of months due to school closures, online summer schools have the potential of stopping the summer slide that has already begun and reversing the effect. That is, key students can begin to make up for loss of instruction and work on closing learning gaps.

Cons

The drawbacks of virtual summer school programs are mainly associated with the lack of personal relationships and direct contact. Without careful consideration, these programs can seem less personal and engaging. Yet, with careful planning, educators can overcome the drawbacks and create highly engaging programs with high-quality content.

Programs should include a combination of live instruction in which special attention is given to reassuring students and building strong connections. In addition, virtual programs should include some prerecorded videos and engaging online assessments that reinforce skills covered during lessons. If all sessions were live, too much time would likely be spent on introductions and updates. An appropriate amount of socialization is key. As such, a blend of live and prerecorded is best to both foster a positive climate and give instruction focus.

A second drawback of a virtual summer school program is the amount of time that will need to be invested to create a quality program. Virtual programs require a lot of upfront planning. More time will need to be devoted to virtual programs compared to traditional summer school, at least initially. Also, there is always a fear of the unknown and new. One thing that is for certain, the pandemic has changed education in a way that educators would have never imagined within a few months. Further, there is no doubt that America’s dedicated educators will rise to this new challenge.

How to Determine Which Program is Right for Your School

If all options were available, the traditional format would likely be preferred by most schools. Personal contact and face-to-face instruction cannot be replaced. The closing of schools due to the pandemic has made many Americans see the value in our educational system. Teachers are the key to the future and cannot be replaced with technology.

Given that most, if not all schools, do not have the option of any traditional instruction this summer, virtual programs are likely the only option. Schools may be able to consider hybrid programs later in the summer, pending their state’s guidelines and taking social distancing measures. Teachers should view virtual summer school as an opportunity to narrow the learning gaps and provide high quality instruction. An open mind will be required, but this is an opportunity to make a difference.

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