Faced with exhausted teachers, Vt. districts scale back pandemic ‘summer school’

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 5:34 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Studies completed by at least one Vermont school district are finding significant educational loss among students during the pandemic. It comes as districts submit recovery plans and look for teachers to help conduct summer programming.

June is a time when many teachers are tired, but the remote learning and enforcing of COVID guidelines this past year have left many especially drained.

“I am exhausted,” admitted Alison Sylvester, a fifth-grade teacher in the Springfield School District. She says in her 21 years of teaching this has been one of the most challenging years, balancing the needs of students in person, with those learning remotely, while navigating ever-changing guidelines. “I basically had two sets of lessons for every day, in-person lessons and then remote. And I always felt really torn because I felt like I had to be constantly checking my email to make sure those students were getting the support they needed.”

Springfield School District Superintendent Zach McLaughlin says his schools are planning some credit recovery opportunities for students over the summer months, but previously had planned even more of a focus on academics. “We pulled back on some of those plans because it was very clear that our core teaching staff is pretty gassed at this point and those people need a chance to recover themselves,” he said.

Sylvester is one of those teachers not teaching this summer. “I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who can find the energy to teach summer school or tutor. I also know for myself, I need that break,” she said.

The state anticipated there would be a shortage of teachers for summer catch-up. That’s why their Summer Matters Initiative will focus less on learning loss and more on social engagement. “One of the reasons why we decided in designing Summer Matters is so we can leverage as many different activities as we could that expand beyond the public education system, to ensure kids would have something to do this summer,” said Vt. Education Secretary Dan French Tuesday.

While the summer activities may help with social and emotional recovery, McLaughlin says based on his district’s in-house assessments, there is a sizable educational loss as well. “It’s not uniformly applied across the board. There are places that it’s bigger than that, there are places where it’s lower than that. But we know we have at least a half year’s worth of makeup to do,” he said.

While Sylvester won’t be helping students catch up this summer, she will be taking a professional development class and preparing for next fall. “I will do some resting and relaxing, but it’s still the looking at the curriculum for next year,” she said.

School districts were required to submit their recovery plans to the Agency of Education by Tuesday. Those plans are supposed to detail how schools will address social and emotional needs, engagement, attendance issues, and academic shortfalls. The good news is that students should all be fully back in person when those recovery efforts begin in September.

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