New hybrid summer education model may foreshadow next school year

  • Concord High history teacher Stacie Boyajian uses video calls to connect with students in her summer school class. Courtesy

  • Smaller class sizes allow algebra teacher Graeme Crowther to tailor course content to individual students' needs. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 7/3/2020 2:59:21 PM

Concord High School teachers, students, and administrators say they are gearing up for a summer school like no other.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close in mid-March, assistant principal Kaileen Chilauskas spent much of the rest of the school year helping students and families encountering challenges with remote learning. She soon realized that students were struggling to balance their schoolwork with the unique stressors of a pandemic.

“We essentially made every family across the country become teachers instantaneously, and they’re not trained to do that,” Chilauskas said.

This summer, Concord High is taking a three-tier approach to summer school as it offers students a second chance at finishing their credits. One aims to give extra support to students who struggled to keep up with their workload during remote learning, while the other two in-person methods hope to provide students with in-person support to minimize disruption to students’ education.

After spring grades were finalized, Chilauskas and other administrators realized the number of students beginning the new school year with missing credits would be “exponentially” larger than in years past. Aware that some students had struggled to keep up with the demands of remote learning, Chilauskas knew administrators would have to approach summer school differently than in years past.

“As educators, we’re really trying to take into consideration that there are many students for whom remote learning is not the most effective way, and that’s not surprising,” she said. “So how do we start bringing in small groups of students so that in-person learning can happen?”

Chilauskas and her colleagues saw three recurring scenarios students struggled with during remote learning and designed different programs to address those challenges. The first program, which began on June 15, is designed for students who were able to see some success with online learning but struggled with either the total number of courses they were managing or struggled to complete all of their coursework on time. Each student will continue to work remotely with an assigned teacher to focus on specific competencies and topic areas each student struggled with during the spring.

Math teacher Graeme Crowder typically has almost 120 students in five different classes of Algebra 1 during the school year. In his ‘tier one’ summer school class, he has nine. Crowder appreciates the opportunity to work one-on-one with students, as well as help them stay on track to graduate.

“We don’t want to leave any student out because of socioeconomic status or inability to access the internet,” he said.

For the first time, Concord High will offer world language classes during summer school.

“Talk about a class that was hard to move over to remote learning,” Chilauskas said. “Students struggled with that, and they want to move on to [the next level] next year and not be back in the same class because they couldn’t earn the credit.”

Teachers noticed students in Spanish and German courses struggled to learn and retain material once classes shifted online, so students will have the opportunity to earn missing credits in those classes this summer.

The other two programs are designed to address students who struggled significantly with remote learning and would benefit more from in-person instruction and support. Both in-person forms of instruction, which begin July 6, will occur in small groups, with students and teachers observing social distancing and wearing masks at all times. Some courses will be offered in a hybrid format, meeting twice per week in person and conducting some meetings remotely.

Chilauskas hopes the opportunity to meet in person will help students who took on additional responsibilities to support their families when the pandemic began, whether they were caring for younger siblings or providing economic support as an essential worker. Chilauskas hopes the extra support will help students balance their coursework with other commitments and stressors they may be facing.

“We call [students] and say, ‘Where have you been?’, and they were working the overnight shift at Walmart – working an eight-hour shift and then going home and sleeping,” she said.

Other students will participate in a program that Chilauskas hopes will re-acclimate them to a school environment. The program, which is specialized for at-risk students and students in need of extra academic support, will meet for a half-day four times a week and includes three elective courses, as well as support from teachers and school counselors.

“We recognize that a lot of these students have been in relative isolation for a long time, and this is going to be the first time that they’re back with peers and with trusted teachers,” Chilauskas said, “and they haven’t had much opportunity to process a lot of this with safe people that aren’t their parents.”

Several Concord High students felt the emotional toll of the pandemic during the online portion of the school year.

“They had some pretty tragic family situations going on where they felt disconnected because they couldn’t go see their grandparents when they were ill and then would sadly lose their grandparent [to COVID-19] and feel like, ‘The last thing I want to do is open up my laptop,’” Chilauskas said

Stacie Boyajian has taught history at Concord High since 1994, but this is her first summer teaching summer school. “We all feel just terrible that some of these kids couldn’t keep up at the end,” she said. “So we’re making an extra effort to help them recover so they can walk in next year more positive.”

While the evolving COVID-19 situation has prevented Concord High administrators from establishing concrete plans for the fall, Chilauskas hopes this summer can offer an idea of what a return to the school building may look like.

“Whenever we do come back, we want to make sure that students feel like they’re starting off on the right foot,” she said. “We want to make sure that they feel like they’re not having to recover something from a time that was really challenging and we’re giving them an opportunity to move forward.”

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