Summer school still on despite COVID-19 challenges

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Photo illustration by Emily O’Connor

While credit recovery classes are going to be in-person, credit advancement classes will be virtually asynchronous.

As summer school forms roll out, the choice for each individual to go virtual or in-person is no longer the case. Instead, depending on if the course is for credit advancement or recovery, the student’s situation dictates the learning environment for that entire section of students and teachers.

Although planning for summer school is easier in a usual year, not knowing what’s going to be happening is also allowing there to be an element of surprise. 

“Honestly, we live in an area that’s gray. This year, there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and ‘I don’t know’ and ‘wait until we have more information’ and ‘next month we will have more details,’ so of course that takes into play and affects everything. We still don’t have all of the information to plan and it’s just really difficult,” sophomore principal Brionne Smith said. 

With many details yet to be finalized, there will be two choices during summer school: a credit recovery course and an advancement course. Credit advancement, classes that a student has not taken yet, will be asynchronous. Credit recovery, classes that students have already taken but didn’t pass, on the other hand, will be held at West High for the entire district, as the building is bigger than the other campuses and has different resources such as elevators that students may require.

“The only school in the whole district that is going to be used for in-person credit recovery courses is West. So that looks different, from my understanding, than years past. South will be here, Central will be here, North. All of the students will be here for credit recovery. The other campuses won’t be utilized,” Smith said. 

With these new changes, more challenges are going to arise, especially due to the fact that many students still have three more classes for fourth quarter. 

“The quarter system does create a challenge with students who may not realize they might fail a course until very late in the school year. This will require us to be incredibly responsive so that we can offer the courses that our students need,” Director of Choice Programs Jennifer Stanfill said.

We live in an area that’s gray. This year, there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and ‘I don’t know’ and ‘wait until we have more information’ and ‘next month we will have more details,’ so of course that takes into play and affects everything.”

— sophomore principal Brionne Smith

There are many things that are going to be different during this year’s summer school, and along with that there are going to be challenges such as fewer staff returning and a burnout that will affect both teachers and students. 

“I think it’s gonna be harder for kids and teachers equally since everyone is not going to be here, kids will have friends that are at home sleeping in, teachers are going to have colleagues that are enjoying time with their families,” Smith said. 

To ensure the school is safe, there will be restrictions such using QR codes when students are going to be leaving classrooms or going to the bathroom and mandated six-feet distancing in classrooms. 

“By limiting in-person courses to credit recovery only, we will be able to ensure there is space for students to socially distance amid the pandemic,” Smith said. “There’s going to be about 14-15 people in a class, probably not more than we have right now. We would probably cap out at 18 before creating another section. So it’s probably going to look very much like it does right now.” 

In addition to these two choices for summer school, another program is the Maryville University College Admissions program held by English teacher Casey Holland. The course has two different sections to avoid conflicting with students that will attend Parkway summer school. The first session of the program starts June 14 and goes to the 25th while the second session starts July 19 and ends on the 30th. 

“This summer will look different than last as I kind of had to throw something together last minute last summer and figure out how to do so much virtually. This summer, the schedule looks a bit different than last, but I believe the changes will be for the better,” Holland said. 

Trying to make the course more interactive than asynchronous, Holland and the guest teachers will work together to help students learn more about the changes with both the ACT test as well as admissions essay requirements. 

“Students will learn the ins-and-outs of the ACT subjects as well as how to draft an admissions essay. They will also hear from several local school reps and learn what their programs have to offer,” Holland said. 

While last year’s sessions were more rushed, this summer’s guest speakers will be joining a Zoom meeting each morning. Each teacher has either ACT tutoring or admissions essay writing experience in addition to their Parkway teaching qualifications.

“I am lucky to have them navigating this virtual course with me again this summer. We will have two teachers teach[ing] the college admissions essay course. This is so each student can do a writing conference with their teacher after they draft an essay. As far as the ACT subject area stuff goes, we will have one teacher who walks students through that content,” Holland said. 

This opportunity is going to be helpful for students since this program is free and available for all students. 

“We provide opportunities for students to get a higher ACT score, which will provide them with more financial benefits. We also share some scholarship essay options for students to work on. It is a great opportunity for everyone to just see what is out there and achieve their post-high school goals,” Holland said. 

According to the Rand Corporation teachers faced high stress levels throughout the pandemic because they were forced to work more hours, navigate an unfamiliar remote environment and often face frequent technical problems leading to teacher burnout.

“Even though there is going to be a burnout situation, we will do our best to get through this together. We’re just gonna do our best to make it as fun as we can during the situation that we’re in, so that will be the only thing that I can think of ,” Smith said. I just want for everyone to know that this is an opportunity for you, this is a privilege. It’s not something that you must have, so, with that being said, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, we’re not going to hold you here you can go home.”