York County districts expand summer school to make up for learning losses during the pandemic

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Most of the classrooms in the Northeastern High School 200 hallway, including this English class are part of the first phase of a nearly $100 million renovation project scheduled to start in the summer of 2021. The first phase is now expected to cost $2 million more than originally expected due to the addition of ten science labs, classroom storage, and new locker rooms. 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

As education officials nationwide grapple with the best ways to make up for learning losses incurred through the COVID-19 pandemic, several local school districts are turning to expanded summer programs as a solution. 

At least two York County districts, York Suburban and Northern York County, have seen increased enrollment in their summer school options, and therefore have expanded the programs to account for the demand. Neither district provided specific figures on how much their enrollment has increased. 

The length of the Northern York County's summer programs has not changed as a result of the increased enrollment, according to Superintendent Steven Kirkpatrick. However, he said the district increased the number of teachers in the programs with the goal of having at least one teacher for every content area throughout the length of the program, which began this week and will run until the end of July. 

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Kirkpatrick said the district plans to fund the increased staffing partially from federal relief through the American Rescue Plan. 

At York Suburban, spokesperson Nicholas Staab confirmed the district saw increased summer school enrollment at the secondary level but not at the elementary level. As a result, he said, the district has expanded secondary summer school options to include additional time, classrooms and teachers. 

Another local school district, West Shore, saw increased enrollment across all levels of its summer school offerings, but spokesperson Rhonda Fourhman said she believes that has less to do with the pandemi, and more to do with the district's efforts to increase participation in summer programs.

This year, West Shore launched a new summer option for high school students where they can begin a new course over the summer to receive original course credit outside of the regular school year. 

York City School District usually offers summer school programs that last about three weeks, but Superintendent Andrea Berry said earlier this year that the programs will likely last eight or nine weeks this summer.

Plus, she said, the district still will have work to do beyond the summer.

"The idea of trying to mitigate loss is not going to be a one-and-done thing," Berry said at the February meeting. "It's going to be a multi-year process."

York County school districts are not alone. Districts across the country are expanding their summer programs and offering bonuses to get teachers to take part.

Under the most recent federal pandemic relief package, the Biden administration is requiring states to devote some of the billions of dollars to summer programs.

The U.S. Education Department said it is too early to know how many students will sign up. But the number is all but certain to exceed the estimated 3.3 million who went to mandatory or optional summer school in 2019, before the pandemic.

The $39.8 billion state budget approved by the Pennsylvania Legislature on Friday spends about $350 million in pandemic money on learning loss, summer enrichment and after-school programs to help children whose educations were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf's office said he plans to sign it.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.