Virtual Summer School an Option for Students in Small Illinois District
When school wraps up in about a month for students in the Berwyn South 100 school district in Berwyn, Ill., all 4,000 of them will have the opportunity to take part in some sort of summer school program.
This preK-8 school district about 11 miles away from Chicago doesn't view summer school as simply a chance for students who are behind to catch up. School leaders believe it's about making sure all students can keep learning and get the support they need, whether that's remedial help or enrichment.
"All students need to continue learning throughout the summer to avoid the summer slide," said Allison Boutet, the district's summer school coordinator and principal of Heritage Middle School in Berwyn.
Boutet expects about 1,000 students to participate in a summer school program, with about one-third choosing to take part in a virtual learning experience.
The district began offering a virtual summer school option four years ago. Students in the program attend class on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. During that time they work on reading, math, and writing with the opportunity to participate in a science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, activity as well.
The rest of the time they work independently on school-issued iPads.
"It offers students who may not be able to participate in a daily program due to other activities in the summer or vacation, it allows them to continue their learning, and it provides them access to reading and learning resources," said Boutet.
Teachers who lead classes through the virtual summer school program communicate with students throughout the week and maintain online systems, but because they're not required to be at school as often, the program allows the district to save some money. Boutet says the district spends about $700 dollars less on teachers in this program.
This type of program is not without its critics. In a recent Chicago Tribune article about virtual summer school programs, Rena Shifflet, an associate professor at Illinois State University's School of Teaching and Learning, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of these programs for young learners.
"Especially with the younger child, just expecting them to be put in front of the computer and that they'll do what they're really supposed to do, there's really no guarantee that that's going to happen," Shifflet said.
One of Four Options
Virtual learning is not the only option for students in the district. In addition to the virtual summer school program, the district also offers three other summer school options, including one that meets three days a week, a leadership camp, and what's called a "step-it-up camp" for middle school students that focuses on social and emotional learning.
Students are recommended for the program that's best suited to their needs.
"I don't think virtual summer school is probably meant for everyone," said Boutet. "Some students do better in other settings, and we're able to offer that. There's never a one-size-fits-all when it comes to students' learning."
Photo: A student works on a math problem at school through the Berwyn South 100 school district's virtual summer school program. (Credit Allison Boutet)
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