SALT LAKE CITY — As schools throughout Utah work to recover from pandemic-related learning loss, many who teach some of the state's most vulnerable children won't get a summer break.
At Salt Lake City's Guadalupe School, a public charter school in the Rose Park neighborhood, 70% of students either "stagnated" in their learning or fell below their grade levels due to the partial move to remote learning during the pandemic, school officials said.
The school anticipates about 80% of its students will attend an expanded summer school program to help catch them up ahead of next school year. Likewise, Salt Lake City and Granite school districts are working to encourage more students to continue their learning in summer classes.
"Roughly 3% to 4% of our students who have not been engaged in our schools this year," said Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesman. That compares to 1% of students before the pandemic.
He said most of those who haven't actively participated in their schools are those who attended only virtual classes and didn't return to the classroom when the district opened for in-person learning last fall. Summer school will take place in-person, he said, and school officials hope that will help reengage those who choose to attend as the area's COVID-19 caseloads continue to drop.
Salt Lake City School District is expanding the length of its summer school session and holding both online and in-person classes taught by teachers rather than tutors, said Yándary Chatwin, district spokeswoman.
"We're not just looking at the traditional summer loss, we're looking at last spring and last summer, too," Chatwin said.
"I hope families will sign up and take advantage, and if you feel like your child has specific needs that are not being met through what we're offering, please let us know at the school level," she added.
A study from researchers at Stanford University found that in the Netherlands, students generally "learned less" during lockdown, especially those from disadvantaged families. According to researchers, that's despite the "best-case scenario" situation in that country, with high rates of broadband internet access and brief COVID-19-related halts on in-person learning.
'Our kids fell behind'
Most of the students from Guadalupe School, which receives Title 1 funding, come from low-income families — an estimated 95%. "So there's a lot of need with our community in general,"said Becky Youkstetter, Guadalupe School development director.
"Our kids are usually behind academically, and I think that has more to do with just parents working several jobs. They don't have the time to spend with their kids in that in-home learning atmosphere that I think a lot of families do have, plus they're English second language learners," Youkstetter said, explaining that many of the students' parents didn't receive an education or learn how to read and write.
Despite those challenges, Youkstetter said students at Guadalupe were doing "pretty well" before the pandemic hit. In 2020, the Utah State Board of Education allowed the school to exit from turnaround status, moving it out of those listed within the lowest 3% performing schools in the state.
Students faced school shutdowns in March throughout the state. Then in the fall, Guadalupe moved to a hybrid schedule, spending two days in the classroom and three days in online instruction as the community continued to confirm high rates of the disease. Many parents work in essential industries and couldn't stay home with their kids. Others live in multigenerational homes, and parents didn't want to risk sending their children to school and risk bringing the infection home to elderly family members, Youkstetter said.
"But our biggest barrier that we found through this digital learning is just digital access," she said. "So our families may not have the internet, or even if they have the internet, they don't have a computer, they don't have the skillset to learn how to log their kids on, how do they set up Zoom."
So unfortunately our kids mostly fell behind. But they're really resilient, and they're coming back, and they're happy. And they're actually quite excited for summer school.
–Becky Youkstetter, Guadalupe School development director
Illustrating that challenge, Youkstetter said the school hired a bilingual family tech support worker, who sometimes assisted parents who didn't know what a password is in the context of computers.
"So unfortunately our kids mostly fell behind," she said. "But they're really resilient, and they're coming back, and they're happy. And they're actually quite excited for summer school."
To prepare them for next school year, Guadalupe is holding an expanded eight-week summer school session and for the first time offering summer school to preschoolers. While the program was previously available to those struggling the most, all are welcome to this year's summer school, according to Youkstetter, though it isn't required. In the past, an average of 80 students per year attended summer school. This year, school officials plan for about 200 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and 60 preschoolers.
"Which poses a lot of problems as far as budget goes with not only do we have to, we had to basically ask our teachers to stick around all summer, so there's the staffing issue, there's feeding kids two and a half meals a day," Youkstetter said, as well as busing expenses.
Most of the teachers agreed to stay on for the summer, she said.
"They would rather just be here, be present with the kids than have a new teacher come in that doesn't really know them, know what level they're at," Youkstetter said.
The expansion was made possible through federal pandemic relief funding and private donations, she said. It's a "big relief" for parents, many of whom can't afford child care and can now know their child is in a safe place between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. each day while the K-6 program runs, and between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for preschoolers. Students with siblings in the preschool can also stay until 4:30 p.m., she said.
Students will likely remain in their current classes during the summer. Lessons will be geared toward each child, according to Youkstetter, as they are during the regular school year. Guadalupe School also hopes to take summer school students on field trips and include other activities to help them enjoy their summer.
The school plans to continue the expanded summer school program into 2022, as officials expect it will take more work to make sure students are "back on track" before they move on to middle school, Youkstetter said.
If interested in helping Guadalupe School with its summer school program through financial or nonmonetary donations, visit guadschool.org.