With one of the most disrupted academic years in history ended, Galveston County school districts are concentrating efforts on summer classes and small group instruction to help students get back on track.
Between virtual learning, quarantines and natural disasters, the unpredictable nature of the 2020-2021 school year means some students will need extra help this year to recover some learning skills, educators said.
While most students had returned from virtual to in- person learning by January, the 2020-2021 academic year was marked by change.
Students largely started the year taking classes online, and some remained in virtual school for months. Students or teachers had to quarantine for two weeks and take classes online if they came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
And two late fall tropical storms along with the February winter freeze prevented students from attending some classes.
With those disruptions, teachers had to pack all the necessary learning into a shorter time, said Anne Anderson, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Texas City Independent School District.
“All of that instruction had to be compacted so we could get everything we needed in for the year,” Anderson said. “We know that there are students that have some areas that we need to focus on.”
Administrators are focusing primarily on reading and math skills in younger students.
Many school districts plan to hold summer learning sessions to give some students a chance to go over some material again before the academic year begins.
Santa Fe is running summer jump-start programs that will begin closer to the start of the fall semester, Chief Academic Officer Kim Ross said.
Like many other districts, Santa Fe’s program will focus on reading and math, she said.
Hitchcock is holding summer programs to help students continue learning before the fall semester begins, Special Programs Coordinator Cherissa Crawford said.
Dickinson is in the process of developing a learning acceleration plan, Superintendent of Schools Carla Voelkel said.
That plan will include instruction for reading and math, small group and one-on-one tutoring and summer and Saturday instruction, she said.
“We know that traditional approaches to remediation will not be enough for pandemic recovery,” Voelkel said.
Hitchcock also plans to add 10 minutes onto every school day during the next academic year to make more time for learning, Crawford said.
Clear Creek plans to offer online supplemental learning programs for students to complete at home this summer, said Susan Silva, executive director for curriculum and instruction.
“We know everybody’s a little exhausted, including students,” Silva said. “This gives them some flexible opportunities to learn.”
The district does plan to check in on students who might need extra help this summer, she said.
In the fall, the district plans to put more emphasis on teachers working with students in small groups, she said.
Galveston Independent School District plans to hire additional teachers for elementary and middle schools in the fall, said Annette Scott, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Elementary and middle-school students who the district determines need extra help will be placed in 15-student classes focused on reading and math skills, she said.
The district also plans to hire reading and math specialists to help other students, she said.
“We’re committed to our students being successful,” Scott said. “We are willing to do whatever we have to do to help them get back on track.”
The district anticipates about 800 students will be placed in this program, Scott said.
The program won’t be implemented at the high school, where students can retake a class, if needed, she said.
Many area districts received funding from the Texas Education Agency to pay for the programs through a $11.2 billion program that draws money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The legislation allocated money aimed at reducing the negative effects of the pandemic.
Most district officials also emphasized the importance of students’ emotional health next year.
Many students had a hard time adjusting to the constant changes, Ross said.
“We like repetition,” Ross said. “We like safety. We have safety in our routine. In our younger students, some of them were taken out of that routine.”
Districts will need to focus on helping students resume those routines, she said.