We know what you did this summer. Many of you taught summer school, and stepped up on short notice.
Ninety percent of California districts offered summer school, according to EdSource. That’s because $4.6 billion was allocated for “extra learning time” by Gov. Gavin Newsom to offset academic setbacks from the pandemic, which especially impacted low-income students and those with poor internet access.
Though Newsom did not specify that summer school should be fun, many teachers report that it was enjoyable. That’s a good thing, because after living through a pandemic, students and teachers desperately needed fun.
“We focused on SEL because if students are not emotionally ready to learn, it doesn’t matter how great the teacher is.”
—Leigh Cambra, Association of Carmel Teachers
“We haven’t held summer school like this in many years,” says Leigh Cambra, a health teacher at Carmel High School who served as “principal” for K-8 summer school session for Carmel Unified School District. “We were worried that teachers wouldn’t want to do it. It was a very rough year. But I was pleasantly surprised that so many teachers signed up.”
A way to connect with students
In Carmel, the focus of summer school was social-emotional learning (SEL), says Cambra, a member of the Association of Carmel Teachers.
“Students had to get into the rhythm and pattern of school. Some students had not been in a classroom for over a year. Some weren’t used to being in groups. So, although we were playing catch-up academically, we focused on SEL because if students are not emotionally ready to learn, it doesn’t matter how great the teacher is.”
Some educators who had been teaching remotely had anxiety about returning to a classroom again, she adds. Summer school was a way to ease back into in-person instruction.
“I would say summer school was a huge success, and we saw growth in students.”
David Cuestas, a teacher at Dos Caminos Dual Immersion School, jokes that he “selfishly” decided to teach summer school so he could bond with the incoming eighth graders he’ll be teaching this year. He enjoyed the stimulating conversations and student participation that was lacking in online instruction, because many students had their cameras off.
“Some students in summer school — especially those who had done distance learning last year — learned how to take responsibility for their work, which is much easier with an adult present,” observes the Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association member. “Students learned how to work together and collaborate. It’s easier in person than in an online breakout room.”
It was the first time in his 28-year teaching career that his district offered summer school for dual immersion students, says Cuestas.
“It was a great experience that prepared everyone for regular school.”
“I wouldn’t call teaching in a pandemic lost time, but it felt like I was teaching a year’s worth of math and literacy in a month to students who are learning more than just the academics,” says Rick Gallegos. The Hidalgo Elementary School teacher and Fresno Teachers Association member taught fourth grade math and literacy during the summer.
“Academically, some students learned to use digital tools in the pandemic, but many students neglected the opportunity to learn, which was a missed opportunity.”
Summer school was a time of parent-teacher team building and was a “lifeline” toward improving student success, says Gallegos. He believes this will carry over to the new year.
Barbara Infante, a teacher at Stratford Elementary, appreciated being able to focus on first graders who were struggling. Because her summer school was an intervention program, she only had five students.
“It was very positive not only for students, but for myself,” says Infante, who teaches in the town of Stratford near Fresno. “I loved the change of pace. Last year I taught a first and second grade combination class in the morning and then had Zoom class in the afternoon.”
Infante, a member of the Central Union Elementary Teachers Association, says some students progressed more during a few weeks in summer than during the entire school year online.
“It was a very positive ending to a school year that was very, very stressful.”
“Everybody got sick and tired of being on computers. So I tried to be fun and creative.”
—Yolanda Stack, Eastside Teachers Association
Keeping it fun
Yolanda Stack, a fourth grade teacher at Tierra Bonita Elementary School in Lancaster, had a roomful of Chromebooks for summer school, and the students never opened them once.
“Everybody got sick and tired of being on computers in the pandemic,” says the Eastside Teachers Association member. “So I tried to be fun and creative and still play catch-up with students who enjoyed reading books, making presentations, doing worksheets and using math manipulatives. I incorporated science, music and art into hands-on activities, which students missed during COVID.”
Students were separated by Plexiglas and wore masks and stayed 3 feet apart, but were happy to be there.
“We had so much fun. We were getting into a groove. Then, sadly, it was over.”
Faith Hurst-Bilinski, a teacher at Davidson Elementary School in San Bernardino, was surprised when nearly a third of the 400 students in her school enrolled in summer school. Summer session was the first time students had seen each other in person in over a year.
“Our mission was creating a fun way for students to readjust to school, see other students and adults in person, and provide a safe space for students who are struggling,” says Hurst-Bilinski, a member of San Bernardino Teachers Association. “We were aware that three weeks was not going to make up for all the skills that were missing. But we knew that being too rigorous on students who had been gone for a year and a half was not going to be beneficial. So we focused on SEL, project-based learning and games to address basic skills.”
Her fourth and fifth graders had to remake the story of “The Three Little Pigs” and write a pitch to a film company explaining why it should be made into a movie. They loved the assignment.
Educators told summer school students they’d be leaders this year at school because they are so prepared and know how to do school. Students were sad when it was over.
“We rebuilt classroom and community. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and saw a different side of us. teachers saw a different side of ourselves.”
—Genevieve Lunt, Santa Ana Educators Association
Exploring hidden talents
“We created a camp,” says Genevieve Lunt, a teacher at Heninger Elementary School. “This was not something students in our poverty- and trauma-filled area typically have available to them.”
It was the first time any students had returned to campus since March 2020, says Lunt, a member of the Santa Ana Educators Association. Many were fearful, because the community was hit extremely hard by the coronavirus.
“Our middle school teachers and the principal taught their passions to students,” says Lunt, who regularly teaches English. For summer school, she shared her passion for teamwork, collaboration and volleyball. Other teachers shared interests such as Ballet Folklórico, poetry and film, baking using math, photography, and the “history of 4th Street, visiting a street rich with history in the downtown area.”
“We rebuilt classroom and community. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it. Students saw a different side of us — and teachers saw a different side of ourselves. I would say, all in all, it was a huge success.”