With millions of dollars in state and federal funding, summer schools and camps are back after a year away. Many Oregon school districts are trying to reengage students in the coming months, after facing enormous instructional challenges since school buildings closed in March 2020. The Centennial School District in East Multnomah County had the added challenge this spring of dealing with a computer hack that disabled their technology systems.

So some school districts, such as Centennial, are starting something new this summer.

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In past years, Centennial has not offered summer programming for elementary or middle school students, “as a rule,” said Centennial administrator Jenny Lucas.

“We’re expanding our offerings to include elementary, middle school and the virtual academy,” Lucas said.

Lucas oversees the district’s curriculum and student learning programs and leads Centennial’s new virtual school.

The district has long offered credit recovery for high schoolers, and a program called “Ninth Grade Counts” for incoming freshmen.

But this year, middle school students in Centennial will have a chance to attend a three-week program similar to Ninth Grade Counts. Each week has a theme, with field trips on Fridays.

Students attending Centennial Virtual Academy, the district’s new online-based school, will also have a chance to make up and finish coursework virtually.

At the elementary level, the district is offering a four-week program that will focus on foundational literacy and math skills in the morning, with activities from Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, or SUN program, in the afternoon. Programming will also focus on social-emotional learning and building community.

“It will be a chance to connect face-to-face, and interact away from a screen, which is what most of our students have been doing for a very long time,” Lucas said.

“That human connection with other children their age, and with teachers, and just with the school in general.”

They’re prioritizing students who did not engage in distance learning, holding the elementary program at two sites with hundreds of available slots.

So far, Lucas said at least 200 students are signed up. with two sites for hundreds of students. She said the program gives students a chance to connect while still leaving them with free time in the summer.

“We do want students to take a break, we want students to enjoy time off, play, enjoy time with families and friends - that’s important,” Lucas said.

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In the nearby Parkrose School District, programming at the district’s four elementary schools mirrors Centennial’s plan.

Other school districts have solicited program proposals from community organizations to provide opportunities for their students. The Eugene 4J district said funding the programs gives families a chance to send their children to summer camps at low or no cost.

The district is seeking programs focused on both learning and enrichment. The district will share information about those programs later this summer.

4J is also planning several high school courses on everything from financial literacy to woodworking. Some classes are already full, with others likely to be added over the next month, according to the district.

Portland Public Schools has also solicited program proposals, with a focus on keeping students safe, especially in light of recent gun violence.

“Leaders are particularly worried about students during the summer because public safety officials predict that this violence will continue to increase,” according to the request for proposals.

Goals for the district’s yet-to-be-announced summer programming include providing culturally responsive programs, employing youth through staffing them in programs, and offering free activities to underserved students. The district will share an update on its plans at a board meeting Tuesday.

The funding is also helping some existing programs expand.

Champions, a program run by national KinderCare Education, typically partners with school districts around the state to offer programs during the school year and in the summer. Champions partnership manager Nick Neville works with districts to create the programs. Neville said the program focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education as well as social-emotional learning.

Neville said, like education leaders around the country, the focus is not on learning loss, but helping focus on students’ strengths.

“We really want to give them the opportunity to accelerate their learning, because they have actually learned so much over the last year and a half,” Neville said.

At the same time, the program will include a focus on movement and community, two things students may have missed in the pandemic.

“The opportunity to work together in project-based units... or the ability to think about ways they can have a positive impact on their community, getting that sense of control, that sense... that they can make a difference,” Neville said. “In some ways, they haven’t been able to get outside, and run, and move, and play with their friends.”

And state and federal funding has played a role in expanding the program’s reach this summer.

In the Forest Grove School District, Neville said the program would usually serve 30-40 students. This year, he said there is the capacity for 300.

Throughout the state, summer meals are also available, though families may see meal locations and times change. The Oregon Department of Education has a summer meals map to find local availability.

Are you (or your student) planning to attend your school’s summer programming? Tell us about it by emailing emiller@opb.org.

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