BILLINGS — Billings School District 2 administrators and teachers are gearing up for the largest offering of summer classes in district history to help make up for COVID-19 pandemic-related learning losses, said Greg Upham, Billings school superintendent, Wednesday.
“We’re going to concentrate, really on the fundamentals. The basics: reading, math and science. And then for our high school students, get them caught up with their graduation requirements and any gaps that they may have. I’m very appreciative of our staff that have stepped forward. Everyone’s tired, but they still see a need for some of those (learning) gaps, and we want to address those as quickly as we possibly can," Upham said.
Billings students will start summer break on Friday, but summer school classes are scheduled to start up soon after on June 14 and run through July 22. Upham said staff sent letters home with students last month, informing families that summer school could benefit from summer classes. The students were identified based on test scores and teacher input, Upham said.
The summer classes for K-5 grades and 6-8 grades are similar. They run for the same time frame, Jun 14 through July 22 in a Monday through Thursday schedule with students attending class for four hours per day. Students will be served breakfast and a snack.
The difference in the summer courses will be the material. K-5 students will learn reading and math, while 6-8 students will learn English, math and science.
High school students will have a similar opportunity as previous years to recover credits that they need to graduate. If a student fails a math, English, science or social studies class during the year, they have an opportunity to retake the course and not fall behind on the path to graduation. Upham said the credit recovery courses will be offered in two sessions that will run for a longer length of time than the other summer courses.
Click here to learn more about the program on the school district's web site.
The summer classes are being paid for with the help of about $54 million the district received from the federal government as part of three coronavirus relief bills. Upham said the district will have the funding to offer a similarly robust summer school program at the end of next school year.
Upham said the expanded summer classes are an opportunity for the district to combat a dip in learning retention often seen in students over the summer by shortening the time in between instruction. Upham called the idea a "balanced calendar."
“We see, especially in students who come from challenged backgrounds and socioeconomic issues, that they do not grow. They actually fall short in the summer time. It’s called a summer dip or summer regression. I think we need to take a look at that. I think it’s time to make some changes in education that are well overdue and this gives us an opportunity to begin that conversation," Upham said.
When it comes to next school year, far fewer COVID-19 restrictions will be in place in school buildings. Upham said masks for students and staff will likely be optional next year. Another change will be the lack of a stand-alone remote learning platform. Upham said a majority of this year's remote students have expressed interest in getting back to the classroom, but the district will still work with students who have physical or mental health issues.
“We’ll offer some form of virtual platform, but it won’t be stand-alone like we’ve had this year," Upham said.
At the start of the school year, the district lost 445 students who made the switch to home school, which threatened the district's budget. Upham said after administrators personally reached out to those families, a good portion want to come back to public school next year.
“It appears at this point in time that a high percentage of those families have expressed interest in returning. We’re hopeful that the majority of our students will be returning from homeschool. We surely want them back. We appreciate them and we’re excited to have them," Upham said.
At the end of a school year that's been anything but normal, Upham said he was proud of the staff and the community for keeping the Billings schools open during the pandemic.
"I think a lot of people feel really good that SD2 was able to stay open the entire year. We're proud of that. We're tired, but our remote students did well. Our remote staff did very well. I'm just extremely proud of our staff and our students and this community. I think we really did some good work," Upham said.