Hopes high for summer school to help close pandemic learning gap

Education and school district officials in New Brunswick are hoping parents and students will take advantage of a “wide range” of summer programs being offered to try to make up for lost learning during the pandemic.

Notes are going out to parents this week with a list of mini-camps and activities being offered in their area, said Education Minister Dominic Cardy, including free courses in reading, math and science.

“There are teachers that have put together some neat ideas to come up with some very engaging activities that we know kids will enjoy,” said Anglophone West superintendent David McTimoney. 

Cardy said he’s been hearing from teachers and parents that there’s a huge appetite for extra learning.

There’s recognition that some students have had a real struggle, he said, and desire to help them get back on track.

Students have lost about 22 weeks of instruction time during the pandemic, according to some analysts.

We don’t know the impact yet, said Cardy, but he doesn’t want to discount it.

The education system will try to provide the support needed, he said.

“We can’t afford to have a generation of students whose life opportunities have been compromised.”

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says students will have a chance this summer to catch up a bit on learning time lost during the pandemic. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Some students, especially those who are self-motivated, did well with online learning during the pandemic and were able to move ahead, said Cardy, but that’s not “the norm.”

Other students had “real difficulties.”

Teachers will be asked to evaluate students and identify learning gaps next fall, said the minister, so that interventions can be developed.

“We don’t know where the gaps are going to be,” he said, but “we certainly expect them.”

McTimoney said teachers did well to continue education during the last 2½ years and showed a lot of resilience, but he also acknowledged learning was lost during “significant interruptions.”

“It’s time to turn into a more strategic mode,” he said, and “look for ways to accelerate learning.”

A call was put out to schools for summer program proposals, said McTimoney, and the response was “very good.”

For example, Nackawic Senior High School is offering workshops on youth challenges, such as social media dangers, self-esteem and coping with ADHD, said district spokesperson Jennifer Read.

George Street Middle School is running a three-day arts workshop series that explores poetry in unexpected places, writing and staging versions of books or TV shows and attending a play and art gallery.

Donald Fraser Memorial School is putting on a three-day camp for grades 3 to 5 students with outdoor activities that cover a broad range of school subjects — many linked to Indigenous practices.

Anglophone West superintendent David McTimoney says teachers have come up with some fun ideas for summer enrichment camps. (Catherine Harrop/CBC News file photo)

A number of school-based camps are being offered focused on literacy and numeracy, said McTimoney, and there are opportunities for students to be subsidized in different community camps and activities.

The district has also bolstered its website, he said, to provide home supports.

That includes, “neat little activities and calendars” for students from kindergarten to Grade 8 and other materials that parents can work with.

The summer courses will be given by teachers, retired teachers and outside groups.

Cardy acknowledged there are issues with collective agreements and insurance but said he’d like to open school buildings more often to community groups for activities such as summer programs.

It’s “crazy” that these public buildings are not used part of the year, he said.

Funding for the extra summer programs has come from the district and the Department of Education, said McTimoney.

There’s also been a “considerable investment” in human resources to address the pandemic’s impact on mental health and social-emotional learning.

His district is “grateful,” he said, to be getting 11 additional guidance counsellors, eight more resource teachers, a number of teachers “to help with classroom composition and interrupted learning,” and additional speech language pathologists and social workers.

If we have healthy kids, said McTimoney, we’re going to see academics improve as well.

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