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Summer Learning to Help Students Most Impacted by the Pandemic

Department of Education launches the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative to help states use federal funding to support students most affected by lockdowns

At the end of April, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, providing support to 46 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Bureau of Indian Education, and three territories working together to use American Rescue Plan and other federal pandemic relief funding to support as many students as possible through enriching and educational summer programming.

The Collaborative—a partnership between ED, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association, and other national partners—followed President Joe Biden’s call to action at ED’s National Safe School Reopening Summit to, “work together to ensure that all children have access to high quality summer learning and enrichment opportunities this summer and beyond.” Biden added that, “This is essential for all students, particularly those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, students of color, English learners, students with disabilities, homeless students, and all those who went without in-person instruction this year.”

The Collaborative brings together state and local leaders working alongside key stakeholders to design evidence-based summer programs that address the lost instructional, social, and extracurricular time students have experienced as a result of the pandemic, especially underserved students and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Too many students have experienced interruptions in learning and negative effects on their social and emotional wellbeing due to time apart from friends and community,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Summer presents a key opportunity for school districts and community partners to accelerate learning and provide new avenues for students to safely engage with each other in fun activities. Let’s use this moment to reimagine what fun, engaging summer programming can look like, make it accessible for all students, and work together to make sure our communities recover and rebuild stronger than they were before the pandemic.”

The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund provides nearly $122 billion to states and school districts and requires that states invest at least $1.2 billion on evidence-based summer enrichment programs. Under the ARP ESSER Fund, school districts are also required to use at least $21 billion for evidence-based initiatives to address the impact of lost instructional time, including summer programs. ED recently released the ARP ESSER state plan application template, which invites states to describe their plans for how they will engage their communities to distribute and utilize ARP ESSER funds.

The Collaborative aims to both take a national approach to understanding best practice and rapidly setting up fun, innovative, and engaging summer opportunities for students, while also facilitating regional and local level partnerships to ensure speedy and robust implementation of state- and district-level plans.

The convening included sessions on forming state-level coalitions; using evidence to inform summer programs; and using federal funds to promote equity through summer enrichment opportunities that support social, emotional, and academic development. Speakers included: Secretary Miguel Cardona, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Illinois State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala, Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key, Education Trust Interim CEO Denise Forte, National Summer Learning Association CEO Aaron Dworkin, and Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada. Participants discussed how to design summer programming in ways that create safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments that reengage students socially, emotionally, and academically as they recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

Summer activities can include opportunities to accelerate learning, along with a broad array of enrichment activities ranging from physical fitness and heal education; arts programs; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities; and career and technical education (CTE) programs; to youth development. For older students, these opportunities can include a work-based learning or community service component.

The Collaborative also emphasizes the importance of offering the necessary supports to ensure all students have access to summer learning and enrichment programs—including English learners, students with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds, and students experiencing homelessness. In addition to the launch of the Collaborative, ED recently released Volume 2 of the COVID-19 Handbook, which outlines strategies to meet the needs of underserved students, including summer learning opportunities.

Additional information about the Collaborative is available here.

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