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Hamilton County School District amps up summer school program

Tennessee schools are gearing up for a busy summer. The state has created legislation and allocated funding aimed at helping students recover and accelerate their learning. The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, passed earlier this year, requires school districts to offer summer school programs for elementary and middle school students (six- and four-week sessions, respectively) and a STEAM-focused after-school camp. Teachers working with these programs will receive a $1,000 per week stipend.

Hamilton County School District has created a two-part summer program called Summer Reach. The first three weeks will focus on helping students who are struggling meet the standards that challenge them. The second three weeks are designed to help students meet what the district calls “forward facing” standards and prepare for the fall. Both sessions are open to all students and will be offered in person. The session will also feature digital learning experiences.

SmartBrief spoke with Cody Patterson, chief communications officer for HCSD, about their summer program. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

Hamilton County School District made a concerted effort to keep students in schools during COVID-19, and actually attended classes in-person 88% of the time. How did you achieve that and why do you believe it was so important to have students on campus? 

There is no question that the best place for our students to learn is in person in the classroom, so our team prioritized offering in-person instruction with proper safety measures to keep our students and staff safe. We developed a School Reopening Task Force to outline how our schools could open in a safe manner, which included rules like social distancing, enhanced cleaning, personal protective equipment, desk dividers and face coverings.

Contact tracing was also a key part of our strategy. Beginning the first day of school, our centralized case management team was conducting contact tracing to isolate and eliminate COVID-19 cases in our school buildings. We were committed to offering a safe, on-campus learning option for families that believed in-person instruction was the best fit for their student, and I am proud of the heroic efforts of our teachers and staff to make this a possibility for our families. 

Summer Reach is not a new program for you. You launched it last year. Can you tell us about the program -- its purpose, how long it ran, its funding source, attendance rate and so forth? 

Last year we held a three-week summer learning program that provided students the opportunity to engage in learning that centered around our end-of-year standards. It served approximately 2,000 students and was funded through CARES. 

You’re bringing Summer Reach back this year, but for six weeks. Why are these types of initiatives so important? What’s different with this year’s program and how are you incorporating elements from last summer? 

We are returning to this initiative because we know it made an impact for the students it served last year and wanted to broaden it for this year. We have increased the length and the number of days for students to attend. We are offering two, three-week sessions for students and they can attend both for up to six weeks of summer learning. We are also shifting from learning recovery to learning acceleration providing students an opportunity to be exposed to concepts that will be taught in the upcoming school year. Summer Reach is about providing them both the foundation and the scaffolds to go deeper in their learning.

We are building on the framework established last year but growing from the lessons we learned. We are including an innovation hour that will have STEAM connections to encourage engagement and application of the concepts being taught. 

How are you using tech tools to support Summer Reach? 

Students can utilize their district-issued laptops to access online learning platforms. We will have opportunities for students to engage in many different programs -- such as MobyMax, Canvas and others -- and teachers will be utilizing various tech tools in their teaching. Our elementary students will work with Lego Robotics. 

What sort of special professional learning did the educators supporting Summer Reach need? 

We wanted our summer curriculum to serve as both a benefit to students and teachers, so the district is providing training on our curriculum and protocols. We are allowing them to dig deeper into professional practices and gain a better understanding of the standards and best teaching practices through this smaller class size instructional time. Teachers will also utilize standards and curriculum from the school year as they reinforce learning from the current year for the first session of Summer Reach and preview standards for the upcoming school year during the second session. Those standards and curriculum are the product of collaborative planning and integrate linked, shareable content from innovative resources like Discovery Education or Savaas across subject areas and grade bands. 

What advice do you have for other schools setting up similar programs? 

Be flexible, think about programs from all angles and listen to what the needs of the community are as a whole. This program is about giving students the chance to grow while also providing them with a continued routine that they know and an environment that is safe. In an uncertain year, the chance to continue being with their school community in a new way is a sense of security that students need. 

Tell me one innovation your district made to adapt to COVID-19 teaching and learning that you will keep going forward.

HCS EdConnect, made possible by a partnership with EPB -- our municipal internet provider -- is a program we are incredibly proud of that brings free, high-speed internet to over 28,000 economically-disadvantaged students and their families over the next ten years. COVID-19 exacerbated the digital divide problem that already existed across our community and this program began solving for that as the pandemic unfolded by connecting students to the classroom across Hamilton County. We are excited to continue closing the digital divide through HCS EdConnect and to provide access to online resources that will support accelerating student achievement in the days ahead.

Kanoe Namahoe is the director of content for SmartBrief Education and Business Services. You can reach her at kanoe.namahoe@futurenet.com.
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