The second of two summer school terms offered by the Juneau School District started on July 6. Harborview School, shown here in May 2020, is one of the locations offering the program. Summer sessions offer an opportunity for students to brush up on content they may have missed over three semesters marked by COVID-19-related schedule disruptions. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Hitting the books this summer

In-person summer programs offer catch-up opportunity

Summer may be in full swing, but some of Juneau’s students are hitting the books instead of the beach this month.

The Juneau School District started the second of two summer school terms on July 6, offering an opportunity for students to brush up on content they may have missed over three semesters marked by COVID-19-related schedule disruptions.

“I’d say that people have been happy to be in-person,” said Ted Wilson, Director, Teaching and Learning Support for the District, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “Our secondary students and high school students appreciate the opportunity to get credit current.”

Wilson said that for younger students the summer sessions are focused on filling gaps and providing enrichment and outdoor activities.

He said that attendance has been lower than the district initially forecasted.

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“We are at about 70% of where we had initially hoped to be regarding actual attendance vs. estimated enrollment,” Wilson said in an email to the Empire.

He attributed the lower number to a general feeling of fatigue among families after a challenging school year.

“We really hoped we’d have more students participate than what has actually participated. Both staff and families told us that after the year that we’ve endured, they just wanted to rest for the summer and get right back at it when school starts,” he said.

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Academic recovery

The summer program is a precursor to a more extensive learning recovery program the district is preparing for when school resumes next month, Wilson said.

“We are going to work with students where they are,” he said, outlining the plans the district is making to help students get back on track.

School resumes on Aug. 16 with five, full days of in-person instruction each week, Wilson said. He said that staff members are participating in re-training for reading skills and that the district has beefed up staffing.

“We hired two reading specialists to work with teachers across the district to help make sure teachers have resources to give students get the best opportunities to learn to read and write,” Wilson said.

Wilson said that as students return to the building this fall, staff will have an eye out for those who may need additional academic support.

“One of the things we saw is that some kids who were doing virtual learning did even better, and there were kids who had a hard time engaging in virtual learning. Those are the ones we want to identify in their classroom,” he said.

He added that the district has intervention services in place and will expand the programs, as needed.

“We want to fill in gaps,” he said. “We are looking for opportunities to revamp where needed. We want to give students the instruction they need while still holding to grade-level standards.”

Virus mitigation measures

When students returned to school last spring, several virus mitigation strategies — including universal masking — were in place. The district is currently reviewing mitigation measures for the fall term as the number of vaccinated students and staff members increases and health guidance changes.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, per updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of the updated guidance, the CDC urged schools to implement strategies that make the most sense based on local conditions.

Student vaccinations

The clock is ticking for students who are eligible for vaccination but have not yet started the series of shots needed to achieve full vaccination status before school starts.

Earlier this week, the City and Borough of Juneau issued a news release urging all eligible children to get vaccinated before school starts by starting the series of shots now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have approved the Pfizer vaccine for anyone ages 12 or older. The agency has declared the vaccine safe and highly effective. Clinical trials are currently underway for younger children.

“It takes a minimum of five weeks from when you get your first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated, which is defined as two weeks after you get the second dose. That means your child will need their first dose of a Pfizer vaccine by July 12 for them to be fully vaccinated before the first day of school,” reads the release.

Visit juneau.org/vaccine or call 586-6000 to find vaccine availability.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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