MOMENCE — Momence School District is rolling out plans to address pandemic-related learning disruptions, including summer school and after-school tutoring programs which will get a boost from federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Lynnette Thrasher, the district’s coordinator of MTSS, Grants, Title IX and Section 504, said school leaders have worked out plans to mitigate disruptions in learning brought on by the pandemic.
The difference in the term “disruption” as opposed to “loss” in learning is slight, but it’s still worth noting, she said.
“We’re calling it ‘disrupted’ learning because our students have learned a lot,” she explained. “We’ve seen academic growth in reading and math — maybe not as much as we would typically see in an average year — but they still have grown.”
And they’ve grown in more ways than just academics, from computer literacy to social-emotional skills, she added.
“Students have become more willing to talk about different issues they are experiencing,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth, just maybe not in the way we are used to seeing it.”
Illinois school districts are set to receive millions in federal COVID-19 relief from the third installment of CARES Act/ ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding.
Districts must use at least 20 percent of the funding to directly address learning loss, and they have through Sept. 30, 2024 to spend it all.
In Momence, a “really robust” summer school program will be one of the main uses of the funding, Thrasher said.
“It is very nice to feel like there is some financial support for some of these initiatives,” she said.
In the past, summer school has been done at the elementary level, while credit recovery has been the focus for high school students, and there was always a cost involved with credit recovery.
“This year, we kind of rethought everything,” she said.
There will be a K-8 summer learning program based on skill building, she said. It will run four hours a day, four days per week for six weeks, which will add up to almost 100 hours of instruction.
Small classes and targeted interventions in small groups will be some of the highlights, Thrasher said.
At the K-4 level, students will be with their classroom teachers, and the focus will be on building reading and math skills with an emphasis on hands-on activities, and interventionists for math and literacy will be present as well.
The junior high will also have a literacy interventionist on hand, in addition to math and reading teachers.
At the high school level, students will be able to participate in credit recovery for free, as the COVID-19 relief funding will cover the costs.
Two programs for credit recovery will be available, one online program and one that is partly online with some hands-on learning opportunities. Teachers will be present to help students in each of the core subject areas.
Bilingual teachers will also be available for all grade levels.
Summer school will begin June 21 and run for six weeks through July.
The timing was designed to give students a break as the current school year ends and also help bridge them back to school in the fall, Thrasher said.
Summer school is being offered to students identified to be in need by their teachers or through benchmark data. There’s capacity for about 25 percent of the student body, or about 15 students per grade level in K - 8.
Thrasher said that as long as room is available, the summer school program would be available to any student that wants to take part.
While many look at summer school as punitive, Thrasher hopes that perspective can change.
“It’s another way to extend the learning opportunities for students who are most in need, so hopefully when they come back in the fall, they are more able to perform at the level we expect."
In addition to summer school, the district is also looking to expand its after school tutoring program next year. Before the pandemic, it was offered mainly at the junior high.
Using some of the COVID-19 relief money, the plan is to expand the curriculum and bring it to all three school buildings.
“We’ll be able to staff after school tutoring with certified teachers so students have a place to stay and get some extra intervention,” Thrasher said.
“Parents are working and also have been through a lot during this time,” she added. “They may not have the capacity to help with homework as much; they are busy too and trying to make ends meet.”
Thrasher said that while she understands concerns about learning loss after the pandemic, it’s best to focus on what positive things can be done going forward.
“There's a lot of fear of students being behind,” she said. “I don't know they are that behind, but it’s nice to have the additional funding to be able to support students that are feeling a little disconnected from their school.”