Summer school is usually seen as a drag — an obligation for those who have to make up some classes, held at a time when they certainly don’t want to be in school anymore.

But because school hasn’t been normal for most students for the better part of 15 months, summer school shouldn’t be the same either.

Back by millions in dollars of federal COVID relief funding, school districts throughout Maine are retooling summer programs to better fit this final stage of the pandemic. The best ideas meld academics with more enriching programs, in an effort to draw in students who have been around each other far too little in the past year.

Now even more so than ever, schools need to focus on the social and emotional well-being of its students. The stresses of the pandemic have hit every student differently, and many very hard.

During the distance learning required to keep the virus at bay, schools found that attendance and test scores were down, class failures were up. Teachers, who have done heroic work since last March, still had trouble engaging students. We can expect students to be far behind where they should be, especially those from low-income families, who are typically hurt the most by disruptions at school.

Getting students caught up academically will take tremendous effort — and the same can be said for their social selves. Students have lost relationships at a number of levels over the last year. Ties will have to be repaired, and interpersonal skills relearned. They’ll have to replenish, too, the parts of their souls that have been harmed during the pandemic.

Summer programs can help. With COVID case numbers falling and schools adept at keeping the virus from spreading, they can be safe. With creativity, they can be very fulfilling.

In Waterville, the Morning Sentinel reports, the program this year will include a wide range of enriching programs focused on building new hobbies and interests, in addition to the usual academic classes.

For three weeks in July, students will be able to choose from such offerings as classic car restoration, cooking, photography, rock band, robot building, local history and tabletop gaming. All the classes are free, with food and transportation included.

Other districts are also using the federal funding for the same purpose. Portland schools will enhance its summer programming for the next two years, the Press Herald reported in April. Gorham schools, which usually do not have summer programming, are extending services through the hot months, with a focus on students who receive special education.

Schools were right to be cautious over the last year. But there’s no doubt distance learning left a lot of kids behind, socially, emotionally and academically.

One way to catch them up is by offering new, enriching experiences that help them reintegrate with their friends and peers, learn new skills, and perhaps find a new talent.

For a long time, students have looked down on summer school. What a thing it would be if the students of the COVID era looked back on it with fondness.

 


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