After enduring 10 months of hybrid or remote learning, social distancing for much of the time and face masks, it's understandable that the last thing students and teachers want to think about is school.
So it's equally understandable that schools are finding it harder to hire summer program teachers and staff, who want to take a break because of Covid-19 fatigue.
But thousands of students in Western New York are getting back on the bus this month to go to summer school, trying to catch up from uneven learning, or pass that course needed for graduation.
At least 20% of federal American Rescue Plan money must be used in the next three years to deal with learning loss by students due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That amounts to $63 million in Erie and Niagara counties, and for many school districts, summer school will be one of their tools.
Many districts have created new programs while others are expanding existing programs.
"We definitely would not be able to do anything to the level we’re doing it without the stimulus," said Iroquois Central Superintendent Douglas Scofield.
Busing, after-school programs help working parents
Iroquois created an elementary summer school program, with spots for about 30 students in each grade, from kindergarten through fifth grade. The program will take place half days in August at the main campus on Girdle Road.
To make it more convenient for working parents, staff will walk children who join the summer program at the nearby Boys and Girls Club of Elma, Marilla and Wales to the club after class.
High schoolers can attend summer school at Iroquois through Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, Scofield said.
"We have to get everyone to where we want them to be at this point, where they normally would have been," Scofield said.
Summer school for Niagara Falls middle and high schoolers started Monday, while elementary programs will start in mid-July.
"Sixth through 12th graders will just work on skills they didn’t get during the school year, so it’s a little more prescriptive," Superintendent Mark Laurrie said. "It will be much more individual, much more focused on the student needs, as opposed to reteaching six weeks of class."
The elementary and middle school programs will be in person, while high schoolers are learning at home four days a week, with students coming in to meet with the teacher one day a week, Laurrie said. Busing will be provided.
Frontier Central also started summer school programs for elementary and middle school.
Elementary students will participate in math, reading, writing and social/emotional health centers, said Colleen Dugan, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Middle schoolers will engage in project-based learning. Every week will have a different theme and each week will end with a guest speaker.
"We're doing it more holistically, to have fun and learn at the same time," Dugan said.
The district also is offering a rocketry camp and a drone camp, as well as music lessons throughout the summer. The high school program will mostly be for students needing to pass required courses.
"We think it's important to get kids back into the routine and build their confidence when they come in the fall," Dugan said.
And this year the district, like many others, is offering transportation.
"Summer school has always been difficult if they don't have transportation," interim Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan said.
Fewer courses at BOCES
Because districts must spend at least 20% of their federal funds on bridging learning gaps from the pandemic, they are not using BOCES programs as much as they did in the past, according to Clark J. Godshall, superintendent of Orleans/Niagara BOCES.
He said Orleans/Niagara BOCES traditionally operates the third largest summer school in the state, with students taking about 3,000 sessions, or classes. This year, it is down to about 400 sessions in part because districts are running their own summer schools, he said.
Also, since Regents exams were not required in June, most students passed their courses and did not have to retake the course and test, he said.
Frontier Central also usually offers a robust high school summer school program, attracting students from surrounding districts, but this year the program is down to a handful of courses.
The problem wasn't finding students, Whelan said. It is finding teachers and other staff.
"We have a difficulty in getting teachers who have experienced ... a very difficult year to continue on with summer school," Whelan said.
It's not just a Frontier problem. Many teachers and staff want a break from the grueling year, and schools are hiring from outside their districts to fill openings.
It's not just teachers.
"It's the bus drivers, the lunch folks, all the support structure," Godshall said. "People are tired."
And while it was challenging finding teachers this year, Scofield doesn't blame them.
"I really hope they are taking a break over the summer, whatever they need to recharge their batteries," Scofield said.
Safety precautions: Masks still required
School leaders have been following New York State guidance on health and safety since the pandemic began in 2020, often on short notice. That includes wearing masks, and filling out a daily Covid-19 questionnaire. So far, masks are required indoors and are optional outside.
But that's different from summer day camps, where wearing of masks is encouraged, but not required indoors or outdoors.
"The frustrating thing is a number of us have camps within our school buildings but also are running summer school," said Depew Superintendent Jeffrey R. Rabey. "You’re telling me that the kids going to camp down the hallway don’t have to wear masks, or they’re optional, but the kids in summer school have to wear masks?"
He's hoping all restrictions will be removed.
"We have no idea what to expect for the fall," Rabey said.