New York City’s ambitious new summer school program kicked off today. For the first time, the program, called Summer Rising, is open to all interested public school students, and offers a combination of academic support and camp-like activities to help kids rebound from the pandemic. According to officials, more than 200,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade have signed up at 800 schools across the city. The free program will serve a mix of students who are required to attend summer school and those who are choosing to.
“You’ve got a lot of kids who did not attend in person instruction during the school year,” Mayor de Blasio said while greeting parents and kids at P.S. 6 in Brooklyn on Tuesday. “A lot of the parents wanted the kids to come back in for the summer to get acclimated and get connected again, restart their learning.”
P.S. 6, an elementary school in Flatbush, is serving 296 students this summer.
Noreno Murray, whose daughter and son are both attending the program at P.S. 6, said she chose to enroll them in Summer Rising because she wanted her kids to be with other children, and because she needs affordable childcare. “I don’t want them to be in the house all summer,” she said. “It also helps me to save money. Normally I’d have to pay for summer camp.”
Murray said she was glad to send her kids to their usual school, with staff she trusts and where she knows strong health protocols are in place. There will be random COVID testing at schools throughout the summer and officials said all schools will follow social distancing requirements.
But administrators and nonprofits in charge of implementing the program said they have been scrambling to find staff, navigate logistics and keep up with changing guidance from the city, reminiscent of the chaotic period leading up to the start of hybrid learning last fall.
At some schools, more students signed up than administrators thought they could accommodate, either because they didn’t have enough teachers, space, or both. As a result, many families did not get assigned to their first choice schools and were put on waitlists. Then, just days before the program was set to begin, the education department informed principals that all students were to be enrolled at their preferred schools.
“We were all losing our minds,” one principal said. Multiple principals echoed this sentiment and said they were rushing to make last-minute hires over the holiday weekend.
“When the Mayor announced plans for Summer Rising 2021, we agreed that this ambitious program would be valuable for children given the impacts of the pandemic,” Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the principals’ union, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the city’s poor implementation in recent weeks led to staffing concerns and frustrated families. Despite the unnecessary obstacles in their way, school leaders and their staff are doing everything in their power to meet the needs of their students. However, at too many sites, programming issues and staffing shortages persist.”
Combining the academic and recreational elements has also been challenging. Schools are generally overseeing the academic portion of the day in the morning, where students will work primarily on reading and writing. Nonprofit partners will then take over for the afternoon, for arts, athletics, and other activities. But administrators said coordinating between multiple agencies and groups has been difficult. Last week, the city also changed the adult-student ratio for elementary school students attending the afternoon session, from 1:10 to 1:15.
“Staffing mandates exist for a reason–to keep children safe and supervised,” said Nora Moran, director of policy and advocacy for United Neighborhood Houses, which is partnering with the city at 165 Summer Rising sites.
Officials had originally planned for 200,000 students, but Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said the demand was even higher, at 201,000, and applications are still open. “We had a great interest which we’re excited about and we staffed up really quickly to meet that interest,” she said. “We’ve spoken every day this weekend to principals, superintendents, to make sure our buildings are staffed and ready to go.”
As part of the federal stimulus package passed this spring, the Biden Administration encouraged school districts to invest money in summer school to help students catch up. Mayor de Blasio has said he hopes the program could become the new model for summer school going forward.