City to roll out elementary summer school program

Superintendent expects 400 to 500 students to participate
Ciara Smith reads "The Snowy Dog" to her daughter, Ari-Yonnah Smith, during a summer meals program in 2016.
Ciara Smith reads "The Snowy Dog" to her daughter, Ari-Yonnah Smith, during a summer meals program in 2016.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Hundreds of Schenectady elementary students will participate in a new full-day summer school program billed as the first step toward a much larger program that could serve thousands of students.

District officials are still ironing out the details of how the summer school will function, but the districtwide program will kick off in early July at a handful of schools across the city.

While the final capacity is dependent on staffing levels – the district is still hiring internal and external staff to man the effort – Superintendent Larry Spring said he expects around 400 to 500 students to participate.

Superintendent Larry Spring speaks during a news conference in 2014. (Daily Gazette file photo)

While the program will be housed at just a handful of schools, it will be open – until full – to elementary students across the district. Spring said district officials are still discussing the best way to allocate what may be a limited number of student slots, suggesting some form of a lottery, needs-based, or school-by-school allotment, or some combination, was possible. He said the district has already received about 500 student applications.

“For a parent who works, you’ve got a place for kids to be all day,” Spring said. “They can have their kids in a place and not have to worry about ditching work partway through the day to shift their kid from a daycare to a babysitter.”

Spring has described this summer’s program as a pilot of sorts, helping the district work out issues about how to run a much broader program that could serve all district elementary students. This summer’s program is funded with leftover grant dollars – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Spring said – but district officials next year would start looking at how to pay for a broader effort from the general fund.

Spring has said that if increases in state funding continue on the same trajectory as the past two years, the enlarged version could be realized in the coming years.

The summer program will start early in the morning and run as late as 6 p.m., offering both academic and recreational activities and breakfast, lunch and snacks. The district is also planning to offer transportation.

The Phyllis Bornt Branch Library and Literacy Center on State Street was the site for the official kickoff of the state Summer Reading Program in 2016. (Marc Schultz)

Currently, the district offers a smattering of different summer programs at specific schools. Since those programs are funded by grants, they are limited in what they can do and how widely they can serve students.

“At the elementary level, it’s a hodgepodge of what I would call partial summer programming, all grant-funded so it’s fairly limited,” Spring said of the current summer programs offered in the district.

Ultimately, any summer program is focused on halting the pernicious “summer slide.” While students from wealthier families often progress academically over the summer months, their low-income peers lose ground during the summer, exacerbating academic achievements disparities. Low-income students lose two to three months of reading proficiency over the summer, while their higher-income peers make slight gains, according to the Summer Learning Institute. Research suggests academic disparities grow more during the summer months than the school year.

For Schenectady schools, the most immediate challenge limiting the size of this summer’s program is staffing levels. The summer classes are targeted at 12 students a section, Spring said, and teachers will work half-day shifts. District officials are still accepting applications from district teachers and outsiders but have yet to begin interviews, Spring said Wednesday.

Sharon Eddy, a first-grade teacher at Van Corlaer Elementary, said it’s frustrating to know that students may lose critical ground during the summer months, especially after spending so much time during the school year getting kids up to speed and fighting to keep their reading on track. She said a summer program is key to helping improve student reading outcomes.

“I don’t want that gap to grow,” she said.

And Spring said Schenectady students really need to continue to make academic progress during the summer to stay on track in the long run.

“We feel if they come back where they left off that isn’t enough,” he said. “Our kids need to make up ground.”

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