WATERVILLE — Waterville Public Schools are working on plans for summer schools to help students who experienced learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.

The concept for summer schools is different this year in that it includes academics as well as fun activities to address social-emotional needs of youths.

The schools have $1.2 million in federal COVID funding to be used to help in that effort and students will receive transportation and meals during “summer camp,” according to Superintendent Eric Haley.

School principals at Monday’s meeting of the Waterville Board of Education issued updates on plans for summer camps. Schools are teaming up with Alfond Youth & Community Center, Jobs for Maine Graduates and Colby College students on the camps. Some activities will be held at the schools, some at the Alfond Center, some at Camp Tracy on McGrath Pond, and some in other places where field trips are planned.

Working to plan for the camps has not been seamless as in some cases it has been difficult to find staff who want to work during the summer after a difficult and exhausting year.

Waterville Junior High School Principal Carole Gilley reported that three of six staff members who had planned to take part in summer school backed out.

“We’re back to square one,” Gilley said. “We are very disappointed. Staff are burnt out.”

She said she will work to bring other staff in, but employees are tired from the pandemic and “tapped out.”

George J. Mitchell School Principal Allan Martin and Albert S. Hall School Principal Barbara Jordan said a lot of planning has gone into summer camps for children in kindergarten through grade five. Research says it is important to find partners in the community such as the Alfond Center to work with on such efforts, according to Jordan.

“The teachers are really excited,” she said. “They’ve had ownership and input into what those camps look like. We’re feeling really good about the work that we have done.”

The camps at that age level will be three days a week. Martin said part of the reason for that is staff wanted to work, but not five days.

School Board member Maryanne Bernier, who is a teacher, said it is good to give teachers ownership, particularly at a time when they are feeling burned out.

“That’s good thinking,” she said.

When Board Chair Joan Phillips-Sandy asked about the number of students the camps will accommodate, Jordan said it depends on how many sign up and at last count, there were about 15 from the Hall School. Phillips-Sandy noted it is important that students who would benefit from summer camp have the opportunity to attend.

Board member Pam Trinward recommended more staff be hired for summer camps, but Martin said they had advertised without success. Trinward said she was thinking more that college students would be a good fit, as children respond well to them.

“I don’t think they have to all be in your staff,” she said.

Phillips-Sandy said the idea of COVID relief efforts is to get kids ready for school, given gaps and loss from this year.

Martin and Jordan noted that continuity is important and experts are needed to offer enriched activities.

“The training that they must have with these kids is crucial,” Martin said.

Trinward, meanwhile, said she thought it was a mistake for the schools to try to staff summer camps with their own staff.

“I just feel like we need more help,” she said.

Haley said he is not opposed to looking for more help with enrichment activities. He assured the board that children wanting to attend summer camps will have the opportunity to do so.

“We are not going to turn away any student,” he said.

Waterville Senior High School Principal Brian Laramee said summer camps at that level are open to all students.

“Right now, the buy-in from our staff has been real good,” he said. “I think they’re excited.”

He said a typical summer school is planned, separate from the special enrichment program.

Firmer plans for summer camps are expected to be discussed at the board’s next meeting.

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