Why the North State is seeing a huge summer school enrollment surge

Nada Atieh
Redding Record Searchlight

Summer break is on hold for hundreds of students in Shasta and Siskiyou counties who are back in school making up for learning lost during the pandemic.

Numerous North State schools have had to start or expand their summer programs to accommodate the large number of students who are trying to catch up with their studies, according to a Record Searchlight survey of nine districts in Shasta and Siskiyou. 

The newspaper wanted to know how schools are responding to a year of distance learning and how they using federal funding from the CARES Act to teach students during the summer.

”The longer the students are out of the classroom the further they fall behind. ... It’s something we’ll be feeling for a long time,” said Kevin Green of the added urgency educators are feeling to get students prepared when regular classes resume in the fall.

Green is serving as the summer school principal for the Shasta Union High School District.

Only one of the nine school districts surveyed responded it had not seen a demand for summer learning.

Here are what some North State school districts are seeing happen in their classrooms.

Shasta Union High School District

The largest district in Shasta County, SUHSD has more than doubled its summer school enrollment to just over 600 students from 300 in previous years.

The district has always run an in-person course for credit recovery where students take their lessons on a computer with teacher supervision. 

This year, school officials added five new courses targeting freshmen in science, math, English and history, as well as an art and physical education elective, Green said.

Students are able to make up as many as 15 credits. Previously, they would have been able to make up 10 credits, or up to two classes.

Mountain Union Elementary School District

At Mountain Union Elementary School District, where only 67 students are enrolled in the Montgomery Creek Elementary School, 45 of them are attending summer school.

Superintendent Clay Ross, who is also the superintendent at Junction and Columbia Elementary School districts, said there were some learning challenges due to the pandemic, but students have recovered "quite a bit."

The summer programs are a new experience for the three districts he oversees. It's been years since students attended classes in the summer, Ross said. 

Students Ayden Fuller, left, and Kayden Varner prepare to launch little toy duckies as part of a velocity exercise during a summer science session at Columbia School on Thursday, June 24, 2021. School districts in Shasta and Siskiyou counties have seen a boom in summer school enrollment as students make up for learning loss during the pandemic.

Students have been attending classes in person most of the year. Their grades in the third trimester, which runs from about April to June, were only slightly lower than last year, Ross said.

Even so, summer school is an opportunity to enrich student learning, he added.

The kids are learning through the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame camp intervention, focusing on science activities that incorporate English and math, Ross said.

French Gulch-Whiskeytown School District

Although enrollment is unchanged at French Gulch-Whiskeytown Elementary, the focus of summer school has changed.

Instead of students coming to school for art and gym classes, they are taking more serious courses like math and science, Maureen Saari, the after school liaison said.  

The school is still holding creative, after-school activities but the emphasis is on the academics, Saari said.

Although the school stayed open last year, all kids fell behind to some degree, she added. This was especially the case for incoming kindergarteners who missed the beginning of the year due to distance learning.

About 12 out of the 25 kids at French Gulch Elementary are in summer school, which runs until July 2. 

Siskiyou County schools are doing 'whatever it takes' to teach students

In Siskiyou County's Scott Valley Unified, about a fifth, or 120, of the 665 elementary through high school students are enrolled in summer school, Superintendent Micheline Miglis said.

Elementary students start the first day of Summer Learning Matters in the Scott Valley Unified School District on June 22, 2021.

The district hasn’t had a summer school in nearly 10 years, Miglis said.

Schools have been teaching in-person since August but some students were exhibiting learning gaps and some chose to stick to distance learning. Those are the students whose needs are being prioritized, Miglis said.

“We know every child by name, by grade, by skill. We were very intentional and granular with prioritizing the needs of students,” she said.

Educators are teaching their students through activities rather than traditional classroom lessons. Kids play old-fashion games like Trouble or Checkers to learn math concepts and then create their own games, Miglis said.

Other school sites, like Siskiyou Union High School district, have had summer school every year. In contrast to normal years, there are five teachers teaching classes this summer where there would normally be one, Superintendent Mike Matheson said.

About one-fifth, or 100 of the 540 students across the district’s four high schools, came back for the three-week-long credit recovery and workplace readiness programs.

Elementary students start the first day of Summer Learning Matters in the Scott Valley Unified School District on June 22, 2021.

Teachers have had to do a lot more outreach to engage students, like making home visits, calling parents, “whatever it takes,” Matheson said.

“Engagement has been harder because there has been a sense of isolation and independence on the students’ part and somewhat of a disconnect to bring students back into the fold,” he said.

What he means is that some students became disinterested in school while doing distance learning.

That sentiment was echoed by Superintendent Barry Barnhart, at Mount Shasta Union School District, where only 26 of the 446 students in the district showed up for summer classes.

For the kids who are there, it's making a big difference, Barnhart said. Several of them are English learners and need the extra school time after moving between distance learning, a hybrid schedule and full-time in-person instruction in one year. 

At the same time, with the stresses of COVID, many families weren't interested in the district's decision to extend the school year for credit recovery and wanted time with their kids this summer, Barnhart said.

Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today! And if you are able, please consider a tax-deductible gift toward her work.