Summer school looks different for teachers and students in Delaware’s Indian River School District

Teachers at the Indian River School District are getting an up-close look at the effects that the coronavirus has had on their students during summer school.

The exterior of North Georgetown Elementary School

North Georgetown Elementary School is part of the Indian River School District. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

As the Indian River School District returns to fully in-person learning this summer, staff members are finding students excited to be with their peers again. But despite the joy of being back together, some students are struggling to regain not only their learning skills, but also appropriate social and emotional interactions.

It’s all the result of learning time lost in the past 15 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators say.

Earlier this month, the district launched its summer program, called Building Bridges and Accelerating Learning for All Students. It continues through August 18.

Principals and staff from North Georgetown Elementary School and Georgetown Middle School say the summer session will help students bridge the pandemic learning gap.

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Principal Samantha Lougheed at North Georgetown Elementary said 250 students are enrolled in their summer school program. Out of the 250 students enrolled, about 98% are students of color. Of the 98% students of color, 80% are Hispanic.

“I don’t believe that our teachers see color,” Lougheed said. “They see a student that they need to get from point A to point B and make sure that they’re giving the best learning that they can.”

Three years ago, Governor John Carney successfully pushed for greater funding for schools with higher percentages of low-income and Hispanic students. North Georgetown Elementary is one of them.

The school used the extra money to hire reading interventionists before the coronavirus pandemic. After the effects of the pandemic, they have hired English language learner interventionists. They are now also planning to hire math interventionists to provide the extra help that students need in those areas.

Not only is there a learning gap, but students are now facing social and emotional issues.

“Students are usually very withdrawn,” Lougheed said. “On the playground, they’re not interacting.”

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Special education ambassador Gemma Cabrera at North Georgetown Elementary said teachers have found students are not interacting with each other or showing facial expressions as they normally would have before the pandemic.

“I don’t have any interactions with students as such, but I see them in the hallway. I’ve been a teacher, and I feel that in my gut. A child in first, second, and third grade should be smiling,” Cabrera said. “You come to school to learn, to be with your friends, you know.”

District schools are implementing a social-emotional curriculum to better these skills.

Principal David Hudson at Georgetown Middle School says that one of the things they are concerned about is the mental health of their students and students forgetting how to behave.

“School is different than laying in your bed, doing things and getting in line and asking permission to go to the bathroom,” Hudson said. “Those types of things are some concerns that we have. But we think the kids are pretty much resilient.”

Assistant principal at Georgetown Middle Maria Hazzard said students are more excited about coming to school this summer than other years. Some even come to school without a need for extra assistance.

This year, the summer school program, designed by both assistant principals Hazzard and Erika Murphy, is known as the Summer Knights Program. In the program, students have to do more hands-on projects and walk around the building doing schoolwork, like creating a number line in front of the school.

“Our main goal, for Ms. Murphy and I, was to make sure that it was hands-on, and that we are keeping it fun for the kids and making it feel like a summer camp,” Hazzard said. “So when they came in, we were able to provide swag bags. But we have people in the community that donated things for the kids. So there were things that they were able to get.”

At the beginning of the summer programs, students received a book bag full of supplies with three books, a water bottle, a t-shirt, and a mask.

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