Summer school enrollment in Bryan and College Station, and many places in the U.S., is up significantly compared to 2019 due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptive impact on education.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that in school districts across the country, summer enrollment was up – in some places drastically – compared to recent pre-pandemic years. The Bryan school district’s summer enrollment more than doubled compared to 2019, according to its director of curriculum and instruction.
The enrollment jump was not universal – a recent Chicago Tribune article chronicled that city’s struggle to sign students up for summer school – but the AP reported that the U.S. Department of Education recently forecast an overall rise nationally in summer school participation, as families and districts alike strive to address the myriad effects of the pandemic on learning.
College Station added a program for elementary students to help close gaps caused by COVID-19 disruptions. Penny Tramel, the district’s chief academic officer, said about 350 students are participating in the four-week program.
“We feel like the kids are doing really well, and we anticipate that we are going to see some significant growth,” Tramel said, adding that the curriculum is as personalized as possible and targets key areas of learning and growth identified for each student.
Bryan increased its summer school offerings compared to past years, according to Leslie Holtkamp, Bryan ISD’s director of curriculum and instruction. High school students now have the opportunity to get ahead in summer by earning first-time credit, which is distinct from credit recovery, through which students can earn credit for a class they did not initially pass.
Holtkamp estimated that Bryan’s summer school enrollment has “more than doubled” compared to 2019, with well over 5,000 students participating. Bryan ISD had more than 15,800 students enrolled in the 2020-21 school year.
“Teachers provided virtual learning, and our parents partnered with us to help as much as they could – but we were hearing from parents that we want our students to be in attendance this summer to fill any gaps that may have been caused due to the pandemic,” Holtkamp said.
Early afternoon Wednesday, bilingual pre-K students at Henderson Elementary in Bryan rotated between a spirited session of P.E. — complete with the ever-popular parachute game — and identifying colors and corresponding items in classrooms.
Margaret DeJesus, who works as Bryan’s bilingual summer school facilitator, said the summer provides time and space for students to make up ground, hone particular skills or build on areas of strength.
“We see that there was some interrupted schooling time, but we’re all working really hard to make up for that time by offering many programs that kids and families can join in where they feel appropriate,” DeJesus said.
Ruby Castro works as attendance clerk at Henderson Elementary. Her daughter, 10-year-old Rhia Ramirez, is in a Bryan summer school program. Rhia, who particularly enjoys math, will be in fifth grade at Jane Long Intermediate School in the fall.
“She’s not required to attend summer school – she was invited – but I always like having that extra push,” Castro said. “She works so hard in school. I feel like this is a great opportunity that the school offers, especially because of the pandemic.”
Castro said the summer programs give students a chance to “catch up or keep up, and continue with their education.” She noted that parents had to weigh a variety of factors during the pandemic.
Bryan’s traditional summer school runs in June; in July, Bryan will launch its new Power Camps, which are opportunities for students entering grades 1-9 to prepare for the fall semester in math and science. Holtkamp said the camps are designed to be engaging and project-based and will be infused with literacy work as well. Holtkamp said about 1,200 students are expected to participate in the Power Camps.
Tiffany Parkerson, CSISD’s executive director for secondary education, said College Station made plans for more students to engage. There are summer programs for advancement and for intervention and remediation. This year, Parkerson said, the district expanded its accelerated instruction and intervention programs at the middle school level.
“Anecdotally, we knew that after coming back to school from at-home learning, students had gaps in knowledge,” Parkerson said. She said the district used NWEA MAP testing in math and reading for grades 5-8, along with other metrics, and used that data to measure growth or lack thereof. Parkerson said those results indicated an increased need for summer work.
College Station’s programs end later this month. Tramel said it’s also important that students and families have time for vacation and play to feel more rested.
Eagle reporter Chelsea Katz contributed research to this article.