As Montgomery Public Schools wrapped up its 2020-21 academic year, educators recognized that there was more work to be done to ensure that students could overcome the COVID-19-related learning gaps exacerbated by pandemic disruptions. The answer to this educational crisis is an eight-week summer academy being conducted from June 7 through July 29.
The “Launch into Learning” program is free and open to all MPS student grades. The academic aspect addresses the critical standards students need to meet by grade level and by subject. Yet the system planned out a full program that also incorporates transportation and meals.
The learning academy is designed to support students wherever they are in their progress toward meeting critical standards. “There will be students who are not as strong as they need to be in those areas, or students who will need to be caught up because they’re behind, or students who may be at risk of school failure or not being promoted,” said Dr. Ann Roy Moore, MPS Superintendent. In addition, high schoolers may need a credit to move on to the next level.
“For the most part, in all grades K-12, we’re going to focus on mathematics, reading and then science,” said Bernard Mitchell, MPS Chief Academic Officer. “In some of our schools, like in high schools, they may have history as well because they have to pass it in order to be promoted or to graduate.”
Making sure that students have a chance to engage with each other and with experienced professionals is another component that is intended to restore a sense of normalcy. “We haven’t seen some of our children since last March (2020),” Mitchell said. That’s why activities around social-emotional learning are also taking place. While MPS knew they had to mitigate learning loss, Mitchell said, “At the same time we wanted to make sure we made it innovative and exciting for children so that they would want to attend.”
The summer learning academy runs from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, starting with breakfast and going through lunch. In addition, there are options for extended day and Friday activities through partners such as the YMCA.
While MPS is working to close learning gaps for any and all students, the Montgomery Education Foundation is conducting a smaller six-week pilot program called MGM LEAPS with the same goal, and if it’s successful, it can be replicated in the future by almost any type of organization. “We designed it and are implementing it in partnership with the City of Montgomery Parks and Recreation,” said Executive Director Ann Sikes.
“The urgency and the depth of the urgency this summer is massive,” Sikes said. But it won’t end there. For the next couple of years, she added, “We’ll really be paying attention to the additional supports that are needed to get our children back where they need to be.”
The MEF program is an outgrowth of the Brain Forest Summer Academy that the foundation has conducted for the past eight years to address the typical learning loss that occurs during a summer break. MGM LEAPS, however, addresses both academic support as well as social and emotional support, recognizing that children and families have experienced a lot of stress during the pandemic.
“The partnership with Parks and Recreation is what makes this so wonderful,” Sikes said. In the afternoons, activities can shift from academics to swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, playing games and the like. “We partnered our expertise together,” Sikes said.
The MGM LEAPS pilot will be held at three sites for six weeks, with certified educators available to help coach classroom leaders who are primarily recruited from schools of education at state universities. The research firm PARCA will also be on hand for real-time assessment of the program’s effectiveness. For now, it’s limited to 150 MPS students, but can expand as other organizations deliver the plug-and-play program.
STAYING FLEXIBLE FOR SUCCESS
Since the start of the pandemic, MPS has been largely in a state of pivoting as needed. COVID exposures had to be assessed by individual schools, or certain wings of the school, or certain classrooms within the school. “Everything was like a moving target,” Moore said. “We didn’t know which way it was going to come at us.”
“The most important thing was to make sure every student was safe, every educator in our system was safe,” Mitchell added. “We make all our decisions around safety and wellbeing first, and then we want to support a high-quality learning environment.”
The system also improvised how it conducted summative assessment testing. “It was required by our State Department of Education that we had to assess all students, and we had to assess them face to face,” Mitchell said. Students were rotated in for testing, and if they were attending virtually, they could return to virtual school at the end of that testing cycle.
MPS hopes to see a full return to the classroom for next fall. Mitchell said, “The goal is to be face-to-face in all our schools with all our students because we know that’s the best environment.”
As the fall term begins, two new charter schools will be opening as well. The Montgomery Education Foundation is opening the state’s first conversion charter next fall at Davis Elementary. In addition, LIFE Academy is a traditional charter opening this fall at the former campus of St. Jude School.
NEW SCHOOLS ON THE BLOCK
The Montgomery Education Foundation is opening the state’s first conversion charter next fall at Davis Elementary. In addition, LIFE Academy is a traditional charter opening this fall at the former campus of St. Jude School.
MPS STUDENT SUMMER PROGRAMS
- “LAUNCH INTO LEARNING”
- Free to all MPS students
- Designed to support students wherever they are in their progress toward meeting critical standards
- MGM LEAPS - Montgomery Education Foundation in partnership with the City of Montgomery Parks and Recreation
- Six-week pilot program
- 150 MPS students
- Addresses academic support as well as social and emotional support
“We haven’t seen some of our children since last March (2020). That’s why activities around social-emotional learning are also taking place.” - Bernard Mitchell, MPS Chief Academic Officer