This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The District’s Summer Learning and More (S.L.A.M.) program is growing and undergoing changes after struggling with attendance and staffing problems in 2009.
The District has an ambitious enrollment target of 50,000, more than double last summer’s average daily attendance of 22,600. The cost will rise from $20 million to $47 million, making it the biggest-ticket item in the District’s Imagine 2014 plan.
In April, teachers and other staff at participating schools began personally contacting the families of eligible students. Schools hosted “block parties,” information fairs about the program, in May.
By mid-May, the District reported that 28,000 students had enrolled in the program.
“We started planning much earlier this year,” said Chief of School Operations John Frangipani.
The centerpiece of the S.L.A.M. program is “Summer Academies” at 107 low-performing Empowerment and Renaissance Schools, where all students are expected to attend. Other components include a summer program at 10 non-Empowerment schools, an extended school year program for special education students (see Extended school year programs), a Summer Bridge program for rising 9th graders, and camp-like activities in the afternoon for all participants.
High school students who struggled during the regular school year can recover up to three credits, and those who are on track can earn one credit to accelerate their education.
The Philadelphia Youth Network will coordinate students’ class schedules with summer work opportunities to make the summer program more accessible.
Last summer, confusion over teaching assignments led to some understaffed schools, according to Robert McGrogran, principal of Adaire Elementary School and treasurer of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA) union. Some Empowerment School faculty chose to teach summer school elsewhere in the District, creating vacancies at these schools. When the District introduced a $1,000 bonus to teachers willing to work at these schools, many of those who opted out wanted back in.
To avoid staff instability this summer, McGrogan said the District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers agreed to exempt teachers who choose to work at Empowerment Schools from the process called leveling. In this process, teachers without enough students lost their summer positions. This summer, Empowerment teachers’ jobs will be safe, regardless of enrollment.
But McGrogan said this staffing solution might undermine S.L.A.M’s objectives; leveling provided an incentive for teachers to fill their classrooms because their jobs depended on it.
This year the pressure to fill the schools is on principals; 75 percent of each Empowerment School’s population is required to participate in S.L.A.M. Michael Lerner, president of CASA, argued that the District has put “an undue burden on administrators” by making such an ambitious target a part of the school’s annual report card.
Lerner also pointed to the strict student attendance policies as contradictory to S.L.A.M’s goal. Students who miss more than two days are no longer eligible to receive class credit. Lerner wondered if many of these students would not return at all after two absences.
The District will again use the Voyager math and reading curricula this year. Some staff who took part in last year’s program expressed concern that the Voyager program devoted six days to testing in the 21-day summer term.
One thing educators do agree on is that summer learning opportunities are a necessity.
“Children forget when they’re not in school. If you’re involved in a summer program, you’re going to forget less,” McGrogan said.
Classes begin June 29. Registration ends June 11. For information, contact or visit your child’s school.