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Tampa Bay School Districts Gear Up To Stem 'Summer Slide'

empty desks with students at desks in background
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School districts in the greater Tampa Bay region are getting ready for a particularly important summer session aimed at mitigating some of the learning challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida education officials say that many students have struggled more with this school year’s curriculum than they have in the past.

As schools across the state end their spring semesters, some educators and parents are worried about a heightened “summer slide” — a decline in reading ability and other academic skills that can occur when school isn't in session.

Summer school is a way to help shorten that slide. And after the learning challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials have recognized that this year’s summer programs could be particularly important.

RELATED: Florida Measure To Prevent 'COVID Slide' Becomes Law

“For students who maybe did not get some direct instruction last spring when they were out of school, and then were out all summer, it could be up to six months worth of learning loss,” said Kevin Hendrick, Pinellas County associate superintendent of teaching and learning services. “So we've obviously been working to catch students up this school year, but we want to keep that going this summer.”

During the school year, some students stopped showing up to class, zoned out while learning on their computers, or faced social isolation and mental health issues.

In response to those academic challenges, Pinellas County Schools is ramping up its Summer Bridge program. It will be offered at every middle and high school in the county, as well as 60 of its 78 elementary schools.

The county also increased the number of teachers it plans to employ during the summer to meet the expansion. In previous years, Pinellas County Schools would need around 700 summer instructors. This year, they hope to hire 1,200.

“One of the reasons why we have more teachers this year, in addition to more sites, is trying to keep the number of students in a classroom a little bit lower,” Hendrick said. “So that, number one, people feel comfortable as they return. But also, having smaller class sizes may lead to more individualized attention.”

The county has already filled 85% of those positions and plans to continue hiring up until June 21, the first day of the program.

Sarasota County Schools experienced more difficulty finding summer instructors. The county is offering Extended School Year (ESY) summer programming, which officials said is reserved for students who “demonstrate significant need in a given area.”

After challenges filling teaching roles in the summer program, the district extended the application window from April 28 to May 24. A financial incentive of $1,000 for instructional staff and $500 for classified staff was also added for those working with the county’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students in the summer program.

To combat teacher burnout in Pinellas, the district shortened its summer session and collaborated with instructors to decide what schedule would work best for them. They decided on a four week program on Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for elementary and middle school students; 8 a.m. to noon for high school students.

“When teachers get to the end of the school year, they're ready for a break,” Hendrick said. “And so this year, when you add in wearing masks and simultaneous teaching, and just the nervousness of returning to school, it certainly has been a challenge.”

According to WTSP, here is what some other districts are planning for summer:

Hernando: Second-grade reading camps, third-grade reading camps, fourth-grade reading camps, and high school credit recovery camps.

Hillsborough: A variety of Summer Learning Programs that has been expanded due to the pandemic.

Polk: Second-grade reading camps, third-grade reading camps, fourth-grade reading camps, and middle and high school credit and grade recovery camps.

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