- Summer learning needs to become part of year-round planning so that is a more effective bridge from one year to the next.
- Building relationships with parents must also start from day one. The more parents and educators understand about each other and their goals, the stronger their partnership will be.
- Quality, consistent tutoring can bridge gaps, build trusting relationships, and celebrate goals.
Students, educators and families have overcome a lot during the pandemic. To ensure the 2021-2022 year is a success, NEA President Becky Pringle convened a panel of experts to explore how extended learning can create equity and help students learn and build social and emotional well-being.
As state and district leaders prepare for what teaching and learning will look like in the fall and beyond, there’s an opportunity now to identify evidence-based policies and practices that rethink school in ways that can transform learning opportunities for students and teachers alike.
Panelists included Aaron Dworkin, executive director of the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) and Moshana Council, youth development facilitator at NSLA; Bibb Hubbard, founder of Learning Heroes, which helps parents most effectively advocate on behalf of their children’s educational success; Susanna Loeb, founder and acting executive director of the National Student Support Accelerator., Professor of Education and International and Public Affairs at Brown University and Director of the Annenberg Institute; and Jennifer Rinehart, Senior Vice President of Research and Policy at the Afterschool Alliance.
The summer is passing quickly, but the National Summer Learning Association has been working hard to help students have fun while learning. Pringle asked Dworkin to describe what that looks like, especially for most vulnerable students.
Summer learning is a combination of academic enrichment, health and fitness, social and emotional learning, but most of all it should be fun and engaging for students, Dworkin said. Programs can be school-based or centered in city and towns through local Parks and Recreation departments, or through organizations like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs.
“Summer learning is the bridge between one academic year and the next and a time for students and staff to recharge while improving,” he said.
This summer, Dworkin said, “we are more focused on moving [summer learning] from being a nice to have to a need to have.”
He said educators need to build summer learning programs into year-round planning so that it starts in September, which is now more do-able with the funding available from the American Rescue Plan.
“Let’s plan, be intentional and strategic,” he said. “And let’s focus on connection over content. Coming out of COVID, this summer is our chance to rebuild relationships because students want to know other students and their teachers. Then people are open and we can move on [more easily] to the academics.”
Following up on connection, Pringle asked Hubbard of Learning Heroes what steps educators and parents can take to build relationships with each other to support student growth during and after the school year.
“It’s hard work to build trusting relationships, but it can work when you start at beginning of the year and share who you are as a parent and as a teacher,” she said.
She suggests that parents share with teachers what’s special about their child and their family and what their goals are for the year socially and academically. In turn, teachers can share how they are unique and what their goals are.
“Parents really want to know their teachers,” she said. “They [rely] on having that caring adult for their child outside of the house. And teachers need to understand the definition of success for that family so they can partner successfully.”
She points to tools on her organizations website bealearninghero.com where parents and educators can find conversation starters and readiness check lists and roadmaps.
“There’s an appetite for connecting the dots between school and out-of-school,” she said. “We need to build connections in various settings.”
Advocate for Extended Learning
With the new funding coming in for education from the American Rescue Plan, Pringle asked Jennifer Rinehart how educators can advocate that some of it be used for after school programs and other learning opportunities.
Rinehart explained that there are funds available specifically for these programs and states and districts can decide how best to use those dollars. She encourages educators to speak out to district administrators and state education agencies on what programs they believe work best.
“Many states are setting up grant competitions with statewide after school networks, which are a great resource,” she said. “Some are prioritizing existing community partnerships, which we think is a best practice.”
Organizations promoting extended learning launched helpkidsrecover.org where educators can find out how their states are using the funding.
Tutoring has also gained traction during the pandemic. Pringle asked how educator leaders can work with schools to ensure additional time for opportunities like high dosage tutoring or effective afterschool programs.
During the pandemic, Susanna Loeb said, tutoring emerged as a solution to help with learning recovery -- research shows significant student gains from tutoring and it works across grade levels. However, scaling it so that all students have access is a challenge.
“High quality tutoring isn’t sporadic homework help, but rather high intensity tutoring that takes place three times a week consistently by a well-trained tutor,” she said. “That’s why we created the National School Support Accelerator.”
The tool doesn’t provide tutoring itself, but it introduces a framework for thinking about how tutoring programs should be structured to suit their communities and specific tools for building, expanding, improving and funding tutoring programs with the the needs of tutoring organizations, schools and districts in mind.
“We have an opportunity now with people focused on this issue of inequalities to think about coordinating after school and summer with what goes on in the school,” she said. “Tutoring helps develop relationships, target needs, and celebrate goals -- that’s the power of tutoring.”
Tutoring can happen after school, during the summer, and during the school day with intervention periods, for example, which is especially important for lower income students who don’t access summer or after school programs.
What are other ways to create more equity in extended learning, Pringle asked the panelists.
Rinehart said that first, we can’t accept that lower income students can’t access after school or summer learning. We need to change that.
“Let’s work together to make sure they all do have access,” she said. “We need to work toward closing that opportunity gap.”
Hubbard said her research shows that a third of parents are turning to districts for information on extended learning, and we should hold districts accountable for providing increased access to them.
She also recommended deepening relationships with community organizations lower income families access like Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA. In addition, we need to pay attention to what worked during the pandemic. For example, Zoom conferences where working parents had more flexibility during their work schedules to meet with teachers.
Council recommended taking a closer look at methods that previously engaged families and built trust outside of traditional school settings, particularly when parents weren’t as comfortable with their own experiences in schools. For example, linking the school day to out of school spaces through community sports or other events.
Closing the Literacy Gap
Pringle then asked how tutoring, summer learning, and after school programs can address address the literacy gap.
“Literacy is a major piece of what a lot of programs are focused on,” Dworkin said.
A very successful extended learning literacy program he pointed to is “Teachers in the Parks.”
The name sums it up: Teachers sit under the trees on a blanket in the parks, six feet apart in small groups, with a white board and a book, and it is so popular that there’s a waiting list for the program.
“Teachers love it,” Dworkin said. “They say this is why I got into teaching to begin with.” They work half the day and then the park system comes in for activities in the afternoon.
“But these are teachers who have been working with students all year and know them well, and know what they need.”
There’s also a big opportunity to engage families in literacy learning, he said, because most parents say they are more comfortable helping their children with literacy than with math or STEM and would prefer leaving that to their teachers.
Hubbard offered methods for families to check in on their students’ literacy and math needs with readiness checks – five questions in math and three in reading for K-8 to track a child’s need and directs them to resources for improving where needed.
“It’s really supportive and engaging and connects parents to resources,” she said. “Especially after this year which has been upside down, it can be a way for parents to introduce their child to the teacher and say this is where they are struggling.”
Pringle’s last question was whether there is data to shows how extended learning opportunities are beneficial.
Rinehart said there is evidence-based research around after school and summer based programs. We have decades of research that shows that these are helping young people thrive in and outside the classroom.
However, getting district leaders to visit these programs can have a major impact.
“The data is important, but really getting out there and seeing how these programs are making a difference for young people and families is tremendous,” she said. “This summer has been transformative. Summer can be a game changer (see Afterschool Alliance special report) and we’re really seeing that this summer as students begin the recovery process.”
Pringle closed the discussion by thanking the panelists for their work to rethink learning beyond school walls and told participants to learn more about these efforts at nea.org/summerlearning.