By Cayla Bamberger
As she prepares for summer, Denise Sullivan, the superintendent of the Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District, fears that the progress school staff and students have made might regress while class is not in session.
“This year, we’re concerned about more kids than ever,” she said. “Kids that normally wouldn’t be struggling, are probably struggling. We don’t even have a good sense of how many.”
Learning loss over the summer break, sometimes referred to as “the summer slide,” occurs when students who are out of the classroom in July and August lose academic ground.
The stakes are high after a sudden transition to virtual classes due to the coronavirus pandemic, which left school staff and students scrambling. Beginning in July, educators on the East End will work with the many students who struggled to grasp material during remote learning. Another complication: most instruction will continue to take place online.
“We always have to bring them back in September,” said Ms. Sullivan. “With this situation, when kids are going to be out of school for five months, that’s my biggest fear: are we going to be able to replicate something for summer that’s enough, when they’re already so far behind?”
Research compiled by The New York Times suggests that come the fall, most students will have fallen behind in their coursework, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of learning. The studies also indicate that achievement gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines will widen, due in part to disparities in computer and internet access, and education quality.
To accommodate the many more students who will need remedial education, Ms. Sullivan had to innovate. This summer, Remsenburg-Speonk — a district of close to 150 pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students — will purchase two-month licenses for eSpark, an online learning program that provides instruction at each student’s level.
“In the past, we didn’t open summer school up for every student,” said Ms. Sullivan. “Now, we’re offering it to anyone who wants it.”
Ms. Sullivan emailed parents about the remote program on a Monday morning in June. Within a couple minutes of pressing send, seven families had already signed up.
Nonetheless, Ms. Sullivan hopes her students will decompress and enjoy the summer. Last year, students had three hours of remedial summer school classes, four days each week.
This unusual summer, they will log onto eSpark three times a week for 20 minutes each of reading and math. “I don’t want the kids in front of screens all summer,” said Ms. Sullivan.
Like Remsenburg-Speonk, Tuckahoe Common School District is also inviting all of its approximately 250 students through the eighth grade to partake in summer school. For context, last summer’s program was limited to about 10 spots per grade, based on student need.
“Students worked at many different paces while at home,” said the district’s superintendent, Len Skuggevik, explaining that summer school will “ensure that each student had a true understanding of a concept before being forced to move forward.”
“Our re-designed program is giving all students the ability to access our teachers throughout the summer to continue with their lessons and minimize any gaps,” he added.
Trends in Remsenburg-Speonk and Tuckahoe match those in New York City, where city officials predict that more than one in six students will need remote summer school this year, and the number of third through 12th graders required to attend is more than double last year’s figure.
Elsewhere on the East End, Montauk will enroll a similar number of students as in the past, while in East Hampton, this summer’s cohort is smaller than that of last year. However, both districts adjusted their standards for advising or requiring summer school in the midst of the pandemic.
In Montauk, recommendations for summer school are “based on whether or not the student made a true attempt at assignments during distance learning and attended Zoom meetings,” said Jack Perna, the superintendent.
East Hampton took a similarly flexible approach. “Grading was adjusted to accommodate the distance learning model and to benefit students in all aspects,” said Richard Burns, the district’s superintendent.
Nearby, Sag Harbor Union Free School District will offer an online enrichment program for two hours per day over the course of six weeks, open to all students.
“Remote learning didn’t replicate the quality of what occurs in a classroom,” said Jeff Nichols, the superintendent in Sag Harbor. “All districts are going to be grappling with what the fallout is from the past three months.”
“We’re in uncharted territory,” he added. “As with everything else, we’re doing the best we can.”