DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Pandemic creates additional funding for local summer school programs

Digital Originals

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — School’s out for summer, but for many local students, their education is not taking a break.

Summer school is a change for many districts this year and has been brought on thanks to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

Of the 13 districts WMBD reached out to, nine are conducting summer school for the first time or have had to expand offerings due to increased interest.

Peoria Public Schools District 150 is one of those, said superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

The district has about 3,000 students enrolled from K-12- a higher number than normal. The changes could be due to federal funds expanding the programs they offer, she said, but could also be due to the district providing breakfast, lunch, and personalized math and reading support for students.

So far, things are off to strong start.

“We’re handling it very well. We hired a lot of staff, a lot of supports. We planned for it well, knowing that a lot more students need more academic support. The idea [behind that] is to kinda get them in a really enriching environment where they can sort of explore and experiment. We’re just excited about the interest from both the students and the families.”

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Tumbling, dance, robotics, STEM, a variety of sports, and foreign language is available to students as well.

“There are about 300 students who are going through the bilingual program and they are learning not only English but a lot of Spanish. It’s individualized, also. They have interest-based courses they can select,” she said.

Courtesy of Peoria Public Schools website

However, the district is facing a big issue when it comes to staffing. Desmoulin-Kherat said in order to attract more bus drivers and teachers, the salary had to be raised.

“For the most part, all of the positions were incentivized for the summer, meaning they were given a higher hourly salary to encourage them to help us out, and it worked,” she said.

Across the river in Washington, this was not a problem at all. Kelli Ballard at Washington Grade School said her program has about 45 students enrolled from grades K-3.

Because of the small size, only three teachers were needed. However, despite the small enrollment, Ballard said this will be the first time in four years the school has operated a summer school program, and it’s all thanks to federal funds.

This year we are able to use the federal CARES Act money to pay the teacher stipends.  In normal years, we would use our district budget to pay for summer school,” she said in an email.

Federal funding was a big pull for the Canton Community School District as well.

Superintendent Jason Parsons said the district began planning for its summer school program in mid-April and “barely got enough staff to run at least one class per grade level K-8.”

Courtesy of the Canton Community School District website

Farmington Central School District Superintendent Dr. Zac Chatterton said staffing was not an issue for them. By posting internally, all positions were filled quickly.

Chatterton said 10-15% of the school’s population will be attending summer school this year. Breakfast and lunch will be offered as well as transportation.

Traditionally summer school in Farmington is not offered to all students and food and bus services are not available. However, Chatterton said with ESSER funds coming in this year, it just felt like the right thing to do.

“While we have our nationally normed benchmark testing and local assessments to tell us how our students are, we are still uncertain of what learning loss may still exist for our students.  The social and emotional side of what our students and their families have experienced over the last year is still very much unknown, so we felt it was best to offer the program to all families.”

Dr. Zac Chatterton, Farmington Central School District Superintendent

However, not all schools are facing this issue. The Morton School District reported no changes to its program and Tremont is not having a summer school at all.

The East Peoria Community School District is expecting 400 students for its program. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) and robotics will be among the curriculum.

Associate Superintendent Jason Warner said the district has a good handle on ensuring all students have transportation and does not foresee any problems.

“We hope that the students have an opportunity for growth and continued learning,” he said in an email.

Credit recovery is the name of the game for Limestone Community High School and the Metamora Community School District. A traditional summer school experience is not being offered.

However, in McLean County, both the Bloomington School District 87 and McLean County Unit 5 district are choosing to conduct summer school this year.

In Bloomington, about 12% of the student population has enrolled- a trend that is higher than normal according to Communication Director Julia Perez.

“Our district knew it was important to put more emphasis on summer programming this year because some students have not been as engaged in school since March of 2020,” she said in an email.

Making sure students’ summers were filled with activities they want to participate in was the solution, the district decided.

“One of the things we really focused on this summer was student engagement. What we have done was created our curriculum directly around that focus, so we are really looking at those socializing activities. They will be outside exploring, they will be reading about things that they want to learn about. All of those are things we can do to really make it an exciting place.”

Dr. DIane wolf, superintendent of bloomington d87 school

McLean County Unit 5 students will have the opportunity to participate for the first time thanks to federal funding.

Typically, the district only offers an extended education program for special needs students and has about 350 enroll on average according to Director of Communications and Community Relations Dayna Brown.

This summer, about 1,100 students are enrolled in the new program and all had to be referred by a teacher, meaning parents could not sign them up on their own.

“Teachers made their referrals based on data [which] showed how students could benefit from those extra learning opportunities,” said superintendent Kristen Weikle.

Summer school will last through mid-July for those in grades K-8, she said. High school students will be undergoing credit recovery courses.

However, this year’s summer school is different from what the district has offered in the past, she said.

“Summer school has expanded. Traditionally, we offer summer school for our students with IEPS who have special needs and qualify. We always have students who qualify to do summer school at the high school level, so those ESSER dollars really came into play to provide K-8 students opportunities.”

mclean county unit 5 superintendent Kristen Weikle

The Peoria Heights and Dunlap School Districts are also preparing for a new format for their summer school programs.

In Peoria Heights, the district will begin a program for the first time, focusing on “programs” that will help sharpen student’s skills based on their own individual needs.

“We offered a skills exploration program, sort of like summer camp, that offered in the afternoons, just some fun things for kids that want to do, music, art, just some offerings we were able to do this summer,” said Superintendent Eric Heath.

Courtesy of Peoria Heights School District

The Dunlap Community School District is keeping the curriculum traditional but has chosen to keep a counselor on-hand to help students with their social-emotional health if needed.

Courtesy of Bloomington District 87 School District

“We are offering, for the first time this year, a counselor on staff for our K-8 summer school,” said Meghan Bagby, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Dunlap Community Schools. “That’ll be something that is new this year to meet some of our needs for our students academically, socially, and emotionally.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Local News

More Local News