In Worcester County, 16% Of Student Body Enrolled In Summer Academy

In Worcester County, 16% Of Student Body Enrolled In Summer Academy
Students at Snow Hill Middle School are pictured this week. Submitted Photo

NEWARK – Worcester County Public Schools kicked off this year’s summer programs with record attendance.

The school system launched its annual summer academy programs throughout the county on Monday. There are 1,076 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade participating in this year’s academy, which runs from June 28 to July 29.

“We have the highest student enrollment in almost 20 years,” said Tamara Mills, coordinator of instruction for Worcester County Public Schools.

For this year’s summer programs, Mills said schools strategically targeted their most in-need students — those struggling academically, those who weren’t engaged during virtual learning, those who are English language learners, etc. — first.

“Once those spots were as full as we could get them, we opened up to all students who were interested,” Mills said.

There are now 1,076 kids — roughly 16% of the school system’s total enrollment — taking part. Mills said the curriculum is a bit different than it has been in years past.

“We have evidence-based, hands-on reading and math programs which are new (i.e. Ready to Rise, Achieve 3000, etc.),” she said. “We are continuing STEM curriculum for intermediate and middle levels (i.e. Rockets and Rovers, Cosmos), many schools have included classes for physical and mental wellness, art and music, and our high schools are doing more varied courses for students which are focusing careers, STEM and work skills.”

As it has been for many area employers, hiring staff for summer academy was a challenge, Mills acknowledged.

“Our school administrators and human resources worked hard to recruit outside of our district, at local universities and using other creative means,” she said.

The school board also approved pay increases for summer school employees in June. Thanks to federal and state funds available to enhance summer school programming, the school system was able to increase the hourly pay rate for teachers from $31.50 to $40. The hourly rate was also increased for educational assistants, whose hourly wage when from $12.90 to $17. Mills said that while the pay increases, which are just for the 2021 program, might have spurred educators who were on the fence to sign up, most employees were already secured when the increase was approved.

Because students spent much of the past year learning virtually, Mills said the in-person summer programs being offered by Worcester County Public Schools would play a vital role for students.

“Typically, our comprehensive summer program helps maintain mastered skills, continue skill development and prevents ‘summer slide,” she said. “However, this year is particularly important, as we are back to fully in-person learning and our students have a great deal of unfinished learning to work on. Our high school programs are also focusing on career skills, as well as academics. We also have students who may have experienced isolation or have mental health needs, so we are providing social-emotional curriculum to help students integrate back into an in-person setting with their peers.”

Though the county’s schools returned to in-person learning before many others did, virtual learning while it was in place was difficult for some students.

“Our goals are to use a robust summer academy, with high-quality curriculum and staffing, to get students where they need to be for a successful 2021-22 school year,” Mills said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.