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Hawaii public schools to offer free summer school

                                Aikahi Elementary is among the many public schools that will offer free summer learning programs. First graders at the Kailua school employ social distancing while walking back to class after recess March 22.
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Aikahi Elementary is among the many public schools that will offer free summer learning programs. First graders at the Kailua school employ social distancing while walking back to class after recess March 22.

More than 230 public schools across the state will offer summer “learning hubs” on campus to help students who need to catch up or reengage with school after a tumultuous year.

Also planned is a three-week transition program for incoming kindergartners who missed out on preschool due to the pandemic. At the other end of the education pipeline, high school seniors will be able to extend the fourth quarter into summer to complete credits they need to graduate.

“The department is preparing a robust array of summer programs,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Thursday. “In-person summer school is a priority.”

Blended and virtual options also will be available, depending on the campus, including the statewide E-School that has already opened summer course registration.

Summer plans at public schools include regular for-credit courses, learning hubs, support for students with special needs, accelerated programs in targeted subjects, and internships and college on-ramp programs.

The Board of Education voted Thursday to make summer school free this year, recognizing that students may need the help through no fault of their own. It will waive the fees normally charged for regular summer school, which typically are $190 for a one-credit course.

“I personally feel that we should not be charging students for this summer even if they are taking credit courses,” said board Chairwoman Catherine Payne.

Kishimoto said families who have already paid for courses will be reimbursed.

The BOE authorized using money from the second round of federal pandemic relief funding to cover the cost of various summer offerings, noting it was allocated for mitigating learning loss.

Learning hubs will be offered at the vast majority of campuses — 234 out of 256 DOE schools. Some campuses that will have construction on site this summer have partnered with nearby schools.

The hub idea is a flexible approach that allows schools to come up with engaging programs that meet student needs, such as individualized academic help, as well as engaging enrichment activities, from aina-based programs to music and art.

“The summer learning hubs are really designed to provide all of the options,” said Paul Zina, complex area superintendent for Kauai.

The aim is to come up with programs that tempt students, especially those who have struggled with distance learning or unplugged from academics.

“In any particular school the challenges are just trying to get as many of the students who fit those categories to actually come and enroll,” Zina said. “It’s not something that we can force families to do.”

Summer programs will prioritize graduating seniors; students who are academically behind or disengaged due to the pandemic; and those in transition grades between school levels, such as from elementary to middle.

A looming concern is the availability of teachers and staff, with many educators feeling burned out after trying to serve kids on and off campus over the course of the academic year.

“I like the concept of learning hubs because it’s faithful to what we as a board have been trying to do, to have school-directed learning based on needs at specific schools,” board member Bruce Voss said. “I think the challenge is encouraging participation both on the staff and the student level given the exhaustion that all the families have.”

Educators say they have been monitoring their students’ progress, both academic and emotional, and identifying those who would benefit most from a learning hub or other summer options.

“I think we do have a good way of identifying students,” said Robert Davis, complex area superintendent for Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua. “We are really trying to work hard to provide access to all.”

Nutritious meals also will be provided this summer at many school campuses, open to all kids through age 18.

Kishimoto called the kindergarten transition program “absolutely critical this year.” So far, 91 schools “have already identified interest and space and staffing for opting into this program,” she said.

Preschool enrollment fell dramatically during the pandemic for a variety of reasons, from spacing requirements at child care centers to more families losing jobs or working at home.

The oldest kids also need attention, noted Disa Hauge, Nanakuli-Waianae complex area superintendent.

“I am proud of the degree to which our staff in our schools at the secondary levels have personally been reaching out, connecting with and addressing all of the needs of our kids as they try to maneuver through their senior year,” she said. “The issues are not simply academic.

“I can pull a list of exactly which names, which kids are struggling with their final credits, and know exactly who’s been contacting them, working with them,” she said. “We bring them in, we give them bus passes, we really try to meet their social-­emotional needs in order to reengage them.

“Kids succeed in school when they have a meaningful relationship with a caring adult and can engage in meaningful activities,” she added.

The Department of Education is offering paid internships for graduating seniors as well as incoming Fall 2021 seniors. The 2021 CTE Summer Internships run for six weeks starting June 1, for 20 hours a week, and the work will be largely remote.

The positions are in various state education offices, where interns may be able to design their own projects and use skills ranging from communications and graphic design to problem­-solving.

For this year’s Class of 2021 graduates, the Next Steps to Your Future program offers free summer advising and career exploration classes at University of Hawaii community colleges. Visit nextsteps.hawaii.edu.

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