Virginia’s largest school district is expecting between 20,000 and 30,000 students to participate in its summer programming this year, as it works to address gaps that resulted from virtual learning.
Levi Folly, the summer program manager for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the district’s offerings aim to cover academics and social-emotional learning. In addition to providing the opportunity for online courses, programs will be available at every elementary and middle school and five high schools across the county.
Fairfax County’s efforts come as school systems nationwide grapple with some students falling behind on grade-level bench marks, in part because the coronavirus pandemic forced a pivot to virtual learning.
“One of the intents behind our program is to help kids look forward and not look back and instill in them a sense of learning purpose,” Folly said. ” … It’s not all centered on academics.”
The county’s math and literacy acceleration program is projected to draw the largest interest, with more than 13,000 elementary students and 3,800 middle school students anticipated to attend, according to school board documents.
About 3,200 high school students are expected to take summer classes for course credit.
The extended school year program, which the school system said provides mandated specialized education services to pre-K through 12th grade students with disabilities, is expecting about 3,300 students to attend.
Ellen Acosta, special education program manager, said that while last summer the program offered in-person and virtual opportunities, the goal for this summer is to have in-person opportunities for all students.
Demand for summer offerings has spiked, Folly said, with between 20,000 and 30,000 students attending a summer program last year. Before the pandemic, some 18,000 students would attend, he said.
The county’s summer opportunities will be paid for using funding from the government and local funds in the school system’s budget, Folly said.
About $12.5 million, which wasn’t needed to fund reserve staffing positions as a result of a dip in student enrollment, is expected to be redirected to help cover costs of the summer programs, according to school board documents.
The extended school year program faced recruiting challenges last year, and as a result, the school system had to facilitate two separate programs last summer, leaving some parents frustrated.
Teachers working in the program are required to have a special education licensure, Acosta said. This summer, the school system is offering a $68 hourly rate instead of the per diem rate used last year.
“We do know teachers are tired. They’re burned out; they need a break,” Acosta said. “We’re hoping with that little bit of incentive that they will be willing to come on board and support the extended school year program this summer.”
For general education programs, Folly said teachers will receive their current hourly per diem rate. Additional incentives weren’t offered “because we didn’t want to compete with the special-ed side.”
School board member Laura Jane Cohen said the summer programming is essential because there are still academic learning gaps for some of the school district’s 180,000 students.
“[We’re] really taking a deep dive at looking at reading scores and math scores and seeing where our kids are, and trying to offer some robust summer programming,” Cohen said.
More information about the county’s summer programs is available online.