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Area schools bolster summer program offerings

A school year marked by COVID-19 quarantines, virtual learning and increased absenteeism has resulted in a jump in the number of students in need of support.

In response, some school districts have expanded their summer school offerings to keep students engaged and help them catch up.

New London

Starting in July, the school system will offer all its students the opportunity to attend programs both in-person and virtual. It’s something that has never been done before and as of June 22, registration was at an all-time high of 640 students and growing.

The list of options and programs in New London is exhaustive – half-day, full day, half-week or full week options; small group and one-on-one counseling, tutoring and mentoring; high school credit recovery courses; supports for students to complete community service projects or compose resumes ; wellness events for staff; and engagement events for families.

The enrichment opportunities will range from art and STEM to music and dance. Free breakfast and lunch will be served to all students participating and New London Parks and Recreation will be offering before and after care for families.

“Our students are coming to us with a variety of academic and social-emotional needs,” said New London Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie. “Therefore, we are offering a variety of academic classes and enrichments, as well as social events and trauma supports.”

“A key grounding factor in our summer program framework is to keep all connected through building strong and supportive relationships across all ages,” Ritchie said. “You will find several of our community partners are a part of our summer programs as we value these connections and supports so much.”

Helping to make the programs in New London and other school districts a reality is a new infusion of pandemic-related funds from several different sources. New London Public Schools, for example, is expanding its preschool program with help of a $500,000 Smart Start Recovery grant recently approved by the state Office of Early Childhood. The funding is designed to address the impact the pandemic had on the availability of early care and education, especially in historically underserved populations - multi-lingual families and families experiencing poverty.

The district is additionally launching a new year round kindergarten and first grade year model starting July 19.

Ritchie said a lot of work has gone into recruiting and hiring summer staff and does not expect to have problems with staffing. The district did not immediately provide a cost for its programs.

Visit www.NewLondon.org for more information.

Norwich

The school system here is taking a similar approach to New London and offering the first in-person summer school programs for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Prior to the pandemic, summer school was limited to kindergarten through third grade. Last year, the program was expanded through eighth grade but was totally virtual.

“For us, this is huge,” Norwich Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster said, “because this the first time we are offering it to all students in grades K-8 in person.”

Norwich has allocated $630,000 of its federal COVID-19 recovery grants to the combined academic and recreational summer program, which will run Mondays through Thursdays, July 6 through Aug. 6 in partnership with Norwich Recreation Department. After that, the partnership with the Recreation Department will continue through Aug. 20 with enrichment programs.

About 600 students have registered for the Summer STEAM Adventures program, with classes in technology and engineering, arts, “measurable minds” mathematics and space science. Academics will take up the mornings, and recreational activities run by the Norwich Recreation Department will run in the afternoons.

Gloster said Norwich had hoped to run the program at all seven city schools but had difficulty hiring enough staff. Instead it will run at four schools, Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School and at Thomas Mahan, Samuel Huntington and John B. Stanton elementary schools.

Norwich Free Academy, which normally doesn’t qualify to receive state and federal education grants, received $807,680 in the state’s portion of the second CARES Act COVID-19 relief grant. Aware that many students have fallen behind on high school credits during pandemic remote learning, NFA used a portion of that grant to expand its summer credit recovery program. About 250 students are expected to attend the NFA credit program this summer, whcih normally attracts about 150 students.

NFA also has an English language program for the summer, and has revived its community summer enrichment program for students in elementary, middle or high school. About 70 students are expected to participate in those programs, NFA spokesman Michael O’Farrell said.

Preston

Then school system is using its federal COVID-19 relief grants for a $60,000 expanded summer school offered to all students in preschool through seventh grade. This summer, the program includes a partnership with Mystic Seaport for one day a week at the museum. Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said the program will allow all students to catch up on learning and socialization.

As of this week, 94 students have signed up for the five-week program that starts July 12, nearly triple the number of students who typically attend summer school, Seitsinger said. The program runs four days a week, half days except for the expanded day at Mystic Seaport.

“Our emphasis will be on re-establishing and strengthening quality learning relationships, reinvigorating the joy of learning, reinforcing a safe and comfortable learning environment, and addressing gaps in learning that may have occurred during the last year,” Seitsinger said.

Groton

Groton Public Schools will be offer three different camps this summer for elementary school kids, including a STEM camp, now in its second year, funded through a five-year Department of Defense Education Activity grant, and then literacy and math camps assisted through e American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, said Groton Superintendent Susan Austin.

Among its programs this summer, the school district will offer a STEAM camp at Groton Middle School students, where students will learn everything from personal finance to arts, music and fitness, she said. High school students can take credit recovery not only online, as in years past, for any course they failed or enrichment to get ahead, but also in person this year, she said.

Austin said the district is seeing “exponential” growth in the kids interested in summer programs this year, and the district will focus on social-emotional learning and mental health for kids and staff. Throughout the district, programs are intended to engage students in learning in a way they might think of as fun or play.

“I keep saying it’s going back to better than normal,” Austin said.

More information on Groton programs is available at: https://www.grotonschools.org/summer-learning-opportunities

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