How schools plan to help students catch up

After-school, summer programs included; some schools still working on it, and one school says they don’t need one

Many Dayton-area K-12 schools have completed extended learning plans that Gov. Mike DeWine asked for by April 1, but others are still working on them, and some plans are more robust than others.

Scores dropped on Ohio’s fall 2020 state tests after the COVID-19 pandemic led to months of online school. Educators have been trying to get students caught up all school year, but DeWine asked public schools to consider longer school days, tutoring or summer programs in their plans.

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Kettering schools were almost exclusively online from March 2020 to January 2021. The district’s diagnostic testing showed that many kindergarteners and first-graders needed “significant intervention,” because some early reading and math skills are hard to learn online.

Kettering’s school board recently approved paid hours for 80 elementary school teachers to work after school with students who need extra help from March 22 to June 3.

“We try to be mindful of the realities that kids need a summer, so we built in options for families,” Kettering Assistant Superintendent Dan Von Handorf said. “That extended school day, a lot of families are really excited about that. The kids can work in a small group or one-on-one with their teacher, and then not have to do a summer program.”

Those summer programs will exist, including a focus on high schoolers who need to make up failed classes. But Von Handorf said they’re trying to offer flexibility there, too, with a mix of in-school time, online check-ins and independent work, so teenagers still have enough time to get a summer job.

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At 4 p.m. Thursday, the Ohio Department of Education had posted links to 228 extended learning plans that had been submitted by school districts, charter schools and career tech centers statewide (out of roughly 1,000 such entities).

Many other schools have completed the plans. More than a half-dozen schools who are not listed on the state website sent the Dayton Daily News their detailed plan on request, including Dayton, Beavercreek, Springboro, Franklin, Northridge and Montgomery Prep.

Some schools are still working on it. Troy City Schools, like many others, are on spring break this week, and Superintendent Chris Piper said Thursday that his district is reviewing options.

“We have been in person most of the year, and I don’t think we’re going to require any extended school year,” Piper said. “There may be some things we can offer to a targeted population of kids that may need it. … The question is, will they come? I think everyone’s a little worn out after this year.”

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Huber Heights schools hope to address that concern via more engaging offerings. The district will still offer traditional interventions, but Matt Housh, Huber’s director of curriculum and instruction, said they’ve had success this semester with after-school programs designed by former teacher/principal Kevin Cornell (known as Mr. C). The sessions include math and reading, but also design and building challenges that encourage collaboration on projects.

“We’re trying to get away from just a standard tutoring program that might be dry, to really raise engagement,” Housh said. “Especially when they’ve already gone through a school day, they’re not always excited — ‘Oh great, I have to do more math.’ So it’s a lot of movement and small groups and engaging activities and design challenges. That’s been working really well for us.”

Huber Heights schools will try to keep the momentum going this summer with a pair of two-week, full-day STEM camps. Housh said the curriculum is an engaging, hands-on approach, and the district will provide transportation and meals “to make it easy for parents to say yes.”

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DeWine didn’t ask private schools to submit extended learning plans. Karyn Hecker, regional director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Dayton-area schools, said many local Catholic schools are working with vendor Catapult Learning on tutoring, after-school and summer school options. Hecker said federal COVID relief funds might allow schools to expand those services.

Dayton Christian School officials said they don’t need a learning-loss plan, citing their teachers’ work since March 2020 and student performance that remains strong. DC said students needing help in reading are receiving intervention, but they pointed to good diagnostic test scores and a high school ACT score average that rose this year.

“The ability to remain in class, full-time since Aug. 19 has enabled us to stay the course with our academic requirements for students,” school spokeswoman Julie Thompson said.

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