Education

Jefferson County Public Schools is planning to expand its summer learning program this year to reach thousands of students both in-person and virtually. JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said the district wants to staff a hundred in-person sites in schools and community centers across the city.

“We are committed in JCPS to increasing summer learning opportunities for our students — every student in the district, but primarily the students that we know may have fallen behind more during [remote learning],” he said during a press conference Tuesday.

A WFPL analysis of grading data showed low-income, Black, Latinx and immigrant students had a harder time participating in nontraditional instruction, or NTI, than their more-advantaged peers.

Pollio was already planning to expand summer learning programs before the pandemic hit. In 2019, the district had 1,000 students in its retooled in-person summer program, known as the Backpack League. It’s a six-week program for students in grades 1-12. Pollio’s goal is to eventually get 10,000 students a year into the program.

“That may be very aggressive this time…being that we’re still in a pandemic,” Pollio said. This year, with more sites, Pollio said he’s hoping to welcome several thousand.

Virtual options will also be available for families who are not yet comfortable sending their children in person due to the risk of COVID-19. 

For this year’s Backpack League, the district will staff the hundred in-person sites with JCPS teachers who will all be using a Gifted and Talented curriculum, a more challenging program normally reserved for students who test into it .

Teachers will also offer hands-on enrichment experiences, such as robotics. The enrichment activity will vary based on where the site is located and the resources made available by the community partner hosting the site. Evolve502, the education nonprofit which helped organize in-person NTI support hubs, is also helping to organize many of those summer learning sites.

JCPS will offer a few specialized camps that cater to students in the Career and Technical Education program (CTE) or to immigrant students learning English as well, officials said.

All camps will focus on the social and emotional needs of students in addition to academics, according to district leaders. Evolve502 CEO Marland Cole said each site will have a school counselor or a mental health practitioner, and that individual and small-group counseling will be available.

There will also be options for pre-K students. The district said it will offer Camp Jumpstart for 3-year-old students in the district’s early childhood program, as well as Camp Ready for K, which JCPS said will help up to 1,600 students prepare to start Kindergarten this fall. 

The Backpack League is open to all students in grades 1-12, but Pollio said the district is prioritizing students who struggled during NTI. He said the district is using participation data and grading data to identify those students, and will reach out to their families to encourage them to participate. 

The Backpack League runs for six weeks from June 21 to July 30.

Registration is not yet open for the in-person or virtual camps, but a district spokesperson said sign-ups would be available on the JCPS website “soon.”

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.