Sydney Robasson needs structure. The 10-year-old rising fifth grader at Samuel L. Tucker Elementary is used to waking up at the crack of dawn, and even with the summer break she’s tried to keep herself to as much of a regimented schedule as possible.
Like thousands of Alexandria City Public School Students, Robasson, who wants to be a doctor or lawyer when she grows up, has had to adapt. She’s learning in a house with her parents and Maxwell, her six-year-old brother. And although the school year officially ended in June, she is participating in summer school.
“Summer school is going well,” Robasson said. “We are relearning in summer school the things that we already have, and that’s because we don’t really have time to waste, and we need to have that fresh in our minds so that when we do get back to school we can get back to the things we need to.”
Her mother, Miss Robasson, said that her daughter was strict with herself on mimicking her school day.
“I would say the transition as an adult has been challenging, and I can imagine how it’s been for students,” the Miss Robasson said.
From March until the remainder of the school year, her daughter woke up at 6 a.m. and worked throughout the day.
“First I’d wake up at like 6 a.m., then get ready for the day,” Sydney Robasson said. “After that, I clean up or relax and after that at 8:00 I start reading; at 9:00 I start math; at 10:00 I do social studies; at 11:00 I do my zoom call or more social studies time; at 12:00 I have lunch. After that I have Encore, and then I would have another two hours of regular free time or me doing writing.”
While her summer schedule is not as rigid, she is still focusing for a number of hours every day.
Stacey Swickert is Robasson’s science teacher and has been at home in La Plata, Maryland, with three daughters and her husband while trying to teach more than 100 students. The nine-year veteran teacher at Tucker now has 30 students on her summer school roster, and works four days a week.
“Things are going on in the world that are very interesting to our kids, and they definitely want a place to go and be able to talk about them,” Swickert said. “I miss my students so much. There’s a synergy when you’re in the same room.”
Fifth-grade students learn physical, Earth and life sciences throughout a school year, and Swickert said keeping kids motivated has been challenging.
“I have to make them like me, even if they don’t like science,” Swickert said. “For us, moving into summer was a natural progression to what we were already teaching.”
Robasson, whose favorite subject is social studies, wants to go back to school. She also hasn’t seen any of her friends since ACPS shut down on March 13.
“I’m lucky since I have my own email account, and we (she and her friends) can talk on Google Hangouts,” she said. “Being at home is annoying because my brother is annoying. He is mean.”
Summer school in Alexandria will end on July 31.
The city is rationing out spots in summer camp programs reopening soon, but even some in the city’s leadership are unclear on why space will be so limited while the city has a preponderance of unused space and resources.
“Summer camp programs are starting,” said Jim Spengler, director of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities in a recent joint meeting between the City Council and the School Board. “They are aimed at essential workers and will expand beyond essential workers based on enrollment.”
But Mayor Justin Wilson noted that with Phase 3 going into effect next week, many jobs are going to start expecting those employees to come back. With many summer camps canceled, those parents will be left without options for childcare programs.
“If that happens will expect to see a whole crunch of workers going back to work,” Wilson said. “To the extent that we have space, we can be essential in helping out frontline workers go back to the workspace. We have a lot of unused space, so I want us to explore our options before we say ‘we can’t use that capacity.'”
Wilson said staff needs to look at school facilities and city facilities to see what kind of space is available to be used for summer programming.
“It seems like we should be looking for every opportunity we can in this environment,” Wilson said. “I’m constantly hearing from parents who are very concerned about their ability to go back to work, particularly when bosses start to expect it. I feel like we can be part of that solution, and there’s money available for us to be part of this, but we have to work out the facility side of this.”
There are complications beyond just facility space, however. Spengler said limits with social distancing mean some spaces that aren’t being utilized aren’t viable as summer program spaces.
“As schools are finding with school buses, for example, social distancing really controls how many people you get together more than the aggregate number you’re given by the Governor,” Spengler said. “The other is if we were able to enroll more students, then we have a staffing issue. We don’t have the staff available because we didn’t do normal summer hiring, so we don’t have the staff capacity to expand much beyond where we are right now.”
But city leaders said that with the city still facing high unemployment figures, not having staff shouldn’t be a problem.
“I feel like that’s a solvable problem,” Wilson said. “I’ll be crystal clear, that seems like something we should be able to figure it out. It seems like this is not a normal circumstance and we can find staff, there’s a lot of people looking for jobs.”
“I would echo the mayor’s sentiment,” City Councilman John Chapman said. “This is an extraordinary time, but we do have a number of people looking for opportunities. Capacity is something that we just need to work through. I don’t think it’s something that we stop at and say ‘We can’t do it’ because if we’re vocal about looking for people, I think we’ll get quality people who would be able to run some of our programmings.”
Wilson added that a good place to start would be hiring from canceled summer camp programs.
Staff photo by James Cullum
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For Alexandria City Public Schools students this year, summer school is not exactly optional.
ACPS announced last week that students will be expected to participate in a summer learning program to compensate for time lost in classrooms in the latter half of the 2019-2020 academic year. Parents who do not want their children to participate will be required to submit a form explaining why they want to opt-out of the summer program.
“Academic loss during COVID-19 is real,” the school division said in its website. “This year, it has the potential to be combined with summer learning loss. It is important that we as a school division do everything within our power to ensure students’ learning needs are being met, especially during these unprecedented times. Therefore, to minimize summer learning loss, we are offering summer learning and enrichment for all students.”
All students are expected to participate and most classes, except a handful of programs at T.C. Williams High School, will be free.
The summer school will take place from July 6-31, with classes Monday-Thursday. Pre-K through eighth-grade classes will be held from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. while high school classes will be held from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Individual summer program guidelines are available for:
According to the website:
The goal of summer learning is to engage, enrich, and prepare students for the anticipation of September 2020 and is based on the following principles:
- Engaging content paced to afford students the opportunity to self-monitor and receive feedback and coaching. Feedback and coaching are essential for student success in the virtual context.
- Preparation for the next grade level for all rising sixth grade students and secondary students through boost/prep course.
- Pre-K through fourth grade students will continue using learning kits and Chromebooks with an additional feature of virtual check-in or phone support for our pre-K through second grade students.
- Feedback and grading are essential to Summer 2020. Students will receive feedback and coaching or grades for credit-bearing courses that will go on transcripts.
Photo via ACPS/Facebook