Education

Anchorage School District bulks up summer school offerings after more students fell behind during pandemic

The Anchorage School District is increasing its summer school options for students experiencing learning loss from the pandemic, substantially expanding its programs for elementary and middle school students and offering two sessions instead of one.

“It’s going to be targeted interventions to really help with that catch-up growth,” said Mandy Clark, director of elementary education for the district.

Elisa Vakalis, president of the Anchorage School Board, said all students have been affected by the pandemic, but the gap is even wider for economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

She said ASD’s summer school curriculum is “trying to catch up what may have been missed during the pandemic.”

“Not everybody enjoyed the same success, not everybody had the same challenges, and there’s no doubt that COVID … put a spotlight on some of those inequities,” Vakalis said.

A November school district report found that for both elementary and middle school students, grades were trending downward compared to the previous year, with fewer A’s and B’s and more C’s, D’s and F’s, and some groups of students were struggling far more than others.

This school year for the district’s high schoolers, F-letter grades have increased by 3.22% compared to the 2019-20 school year, according to a February report from the district. D-letter grades increased by 2.67%.

Clark said that in the past, elementary students have not always had the option of summer school. Sometimes, specific site locations hosted programs, but those were funded through grants.

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This year, summer school is available for all age groups. Students will be given first priority for in-person classes based on need.

The school district offered just one summer school session in past years, but this year there will be two in-person blocks for students: The first will run through the month of June, and the second block begins July 12 and ends Aug. 6.

Each session has a morning and afternoon period, with elementary students going four days a week and middle and high schoolers attending Monday through Friday.

Pre-COVID, the district offered around 750 high school seats for in-person summer school, with up to 1,000 additional spots for iSchool — the online option at the time — also only for high schoolers.

This year, the district is planning to offer 5,500 in-person seats for students in grades K-5. Kersten Johnson, senior director of secondary education for ASD, said there should be around 2,000 in-person spots for middle schoolers and 3,000 for high school students this summer.

“If students received a failing grade, we’ve converted that into an incomplete — with the idea that they would go to summer school and we would be able to provide more instruction for them over the summer,” Johnson said.

Virtual summer learning is another option offered by the district this year. Any elementary student who needs additional support can sign up. Middle school students who failed a course or received an incomplete grade qualify.

Any high schooler who failed a course during the year is also eligible for virtual summer school.

Summer school registration opened Monday.

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