Some Juneau families look to summer school to make up for school year challenges

Aiden McCurley sits at school
Aiden McCurley is in in a specialized program for students with autism at Riverbend Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Cadiente-Laiti Blattner)

After a year unlike any other, teachers, students and parents across the country are hoping for a less surprising school year this fall. But before starting anew, some families are looking for ways to make up for this year’s challenges.

In Juneau, the school district is offering an expanded summer school program. 

The Juneau School District has offered summer school in the past. High school students were able to participate in credit recovery, special needs students could sign up for an extended school year and there were a few programs for elementary students.

But Ted Wilson, the district’s director of teaching and learning support, said in recent years, the summer school program hasn’t been nearly as big as they’re expecting it to be in the coming months.

Photo of Ted Wilson
Ted Wilson, the district’s director of teaching and learning support, says in recent years, the summer school program hasn’t been nearly as big as they’re expecting it to be in the coming months. (Photo courtesy of Ted Wilson)

“Once it’s all said and done, practically every school and program in the district will have hosted some aspect of summer school,” Wilson said. “We’ll have more capacity for both our special ed students and our general education students than we might have other summers.”

Several sessions will be offered at different schools across all grade levels throughout June and July.

At the elementary level, teachers have identified students that could benefit from a little extra time and invited them to participate in summer programs. Middle school sessions are open to any sixth, seventh or eighth grader who wants to apply.

High Schools are offering more sessions than they typically do, prioritizing students who need to complete credits first, and admitting other students as space allows.

Most programs will focus on language arts, math and science, but some art, and P.E. options are available as well.

Wilson said the district is using funds from The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to make those sessions possible.

“[ARPA] is 100% funding the middle school and it’s funding about half of the elementary school effort,” he said. “It’s helping with the high school effort, although the high schools often provide a lot of what they’re going to be doing.”

The Juneau School District expects to see about $5.2 million in ARPA funds, and Wilson said according to soft estimates, the district will spending $200,000 to $250,000 on summer school programs this year. That will be combined with a few other available grants. The district is also setting aside money for summer school in 2022.

Ivette Perez has a 10-year-old son at Mendenhall River Community School. As a single mom, she said it was hard to keep her son on track this year. 

Ivette Perez hugs her 10-year-old son, Ivan.
Ivette Perez hugs her 10-year-old son, Ivan. (Photo courtesy of Ivette Perez)

“[I was] trying to juggle between, ‘okay, you need to do homework, but at the same time I need to be on meetings or interviews or conferences,'” Perez said. “So, for me, it was really hard trying to make a schedule and sit down with him for four, five, or six hours a day.”

Perez said her son fell behind in math and will be using the June and July summer sessions to catch up. 

“He was doing okay [before the pandemic],” she said. “He was like on a regular level I would say, not like really really smart, but this past year, when they stayed home, that’s when he completely dropped, like he kind of forgot everything or it was completely different not having a teacher in front of him to explain things.”

Ivan Sebastian Perez is in fourth grade at Mendenhall River Community School.
Ivan Perez is in fourth grade at Mendenhall River Community School. (Photo courtesy of Ivette Perez)

Another Juneau mom, Alyssa Cadiente-Laiti Blattner, has a six-year-old in a specialized program for students with autism at Riverbend Elementary School. She said while most students attended school virtually, her son Aiden was unable to.

“Aiden doesn’t like using the computer and he won’t engage,” Blattner said. “We’ve tried doing Zoom before and he didn’t want to be on the computer. He’d run away from it.”

Aiden also lost a lot of his service hours where he’d get speech therapy or time with a special education teacher. The extended school year will help him catch up on those hours. Blattner said she’s hoping the next year will be better for both his education and his social interaction.

“He’s not able to tolerate wearing a mask as long as his peers in general education are, so Aiden has actually spent the majority of his time at school in his specialized classroom,” she said. “I don’t think he’s been in his general education classroom at all. So that is concerning because he hasn’t had that social interaction with his peers.”

For parents who still have questions about summer school or who might have missed communication from their schools, Wilson recommends contacting the school’s office directly. Recruitment for summer school is still underway, but some elementary programs are already at capacity. 

Alyssa Cadiente-Laiti Blattner and her son Aiden.
Alyssa Cadiente-Laiti Blattner and her son Aiden. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Cadiente-Laiti Blattner)
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