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Summer learning begins for thousands of Philadelphia students

For many, this is the first time back into school buildings since COVID-19 closed buildings in March 2020.

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite with two students outside Hunter Elementary School

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite with two students outside Hunter Elementary School before the first day of summer learning on Monday.

Dale Mezzacappa / Chalkbeat

The Philadelphia school district’s summer learning program began Monday, bringing students in all grades back into school buildings for the first time since COVID-19 abruptly closed them in March 2020.

More than 15,000 students have signed up for an array of summer activities, city and district officials said at a press conference at Hunter Elementary School in East Kensington. 

Those range from an extended school year program for students in special education to a “quarter 5” for 10th through 12th graders who need to make up credits lost during virtual learning. When the district reopened some schools in the spring for hybrid learning, about 25,000 students participated, though 10th through 12th graders never had the option to return. 

After more than a year of disrupted learning that forced students online, this year’s summer school programming is anticipated to be among the largest in history, with the district and the city making an extra effort to help students make up for some of the lost class time.

Officials said that they did not have an estimate of the total cost of the enhanced summer programming, but said that they are using federal COVID aid to help pay for it. 

“By working in partnership and coordinating resources, we’ve created thousands of opportunities for students this summer,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “It’s a wonderful thing seeing our kids and youth back doing the things they really love and learning and catching up with what they missed all last year.” 

Kenney, Superintendent William Hite, and Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa were on hand to greet several hundred students at Hunter, a new school chosen as one of 26 regional sites. The school is hosting first through eighth graders in a first-ever partnership in which the district’s summer school is combined with the city’s traditional summer camp at the same site. 

Cynthia Figueroa, deputy mayor of Philadelphia,

Cynthia Figueroa, deputy mayor of Philadelphia, greets a family outside Hunter Elementary School for the first day of summer learning on Monday.

Dale Mezzacappa / Chalkbeat

Ali Robinson-Rogers of the district’s Office of Academic Supports said that this was the district’s “first-ever summer programming designed to support academic achievement and social growth.” Such a comprehensive program was in the works before the pandemic hit, she said.  

Among the more than 15,000 students who have registered are 5,300 rising first through eighth graders and 900 students in high school enrichment classes. About 3,000 high school students registered for “quarter 5” and credit recovery, where they can catch up on missed academic work. The district had not yet responded to a request Monday to confirm that number. 

Robinson-Rogers said 5,500 students in special education registered in the extended school year program for special education. And 750 incoming kindergarten students signed up for the “transition to kindergarten” program. Kindergarten is the only summer program that will be fully virtual, with young students receiving 90 minutes of online instruction twice per week.

Summer learning for first through eighth graders will be fully in person from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Students will receive academic instruction from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and participate in sports, arts and other extracurricular activities from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

High school summer instruction will operate on a similar schedule, though students in grades nine through 12 can also attend the program digitally or under a hybrid model.

The city partners with providers for “out of school time” summer activities. The provider at Hunter is Norris Square Community Alliance, whose counselors lined up against the building to answer questions. 

“This is a historic level of cooperation,” said Figueroa, who heads the city’s Office of Children and Families. She said there are 24 providers working with the city and district this year, many of which staffed the city’s digital access centers during the school year where students could go for internet access and supervision while they participated in classes online. 

“This summer is critical...as a time to catch up,” Figueroa said. “We know it’s been a tough year academically, but also socially. We’ve been working hard for several months to make sure Philadelphia kids have fun, learn, and have a safe summer.” Altogether, there are 32,000 spaces in all city-run programs, she said, including those not being run with the school district. 

“I’m really excited to see kids,” said Figueroa. “I’m so excited to see school buses passing by.”

Rising fifth graders Caleb Cross, Isaiah Haristion Cross, and Ayden Acosta lined up with their class and told Hite that they were most looking forward to sports and arts activities. 

“I’m looking forward to football and video games,” said Ayden. Caleb wants to learn gymnastics. 

Raelyn Guity-Scott and Esmer Scott brought their daughter Sahrasia, who is entering first grade at Willard Elementary in the fall. They got a brief scare when someone told them that she was not registered, but all was straightened out after she filled out some paperwork. 

“It’s so nice for them to have something to do this summer, after COVID,” said Guity-Scott. 

The summer programs will operate for five or six consecutive weeks in close to 30 schools across the city. All 120,000 district students were eligible to opt in to the program, though attendance isn’t mandatory, and registration is now closed. 

All students in first through 12th grade programs will receive breakfast and lunch, and they should bring their district-issued Chromebooks to class every day. 

Families can contact the district with questions about their summer learning programs here, and registration is open for other city summer programs.

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