For students at District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and many public charter schools, the 2020-21 school year will end on or around June 24, 2021. After the academic year ends, many students will participate in summer programs to address reduced learning and socialization over the last year. In 2017, at least 15,000 children and youth participated in subsidized summer programs in D.C. offered by their schools, District agencies such as the Department of Parks and Recreation, and non-school entities that receive public funding such as community-based providers (CBOs). Among these children and youth, an estimated 4,700 were in pre-kindergarten through grade 8, and roughly 10,800 were in grades 9 through 12.[i] This summer, D.C. will have the capacity to enroll at least 23,000 students across all summer programs offered by the city.[ii]
Several school systems in the Washington region are planning to expand their programming by using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan intended to target learning loss.[iii] Montgomery Country, Maryland’s largest school system, plans to offer a comprehensive free summer program for all grades, as well as tutoring and other academic interventions. In Virginia, Alexandria’s school district plans to use some of its federal funding to offer summer school for all students. It will also allow its most vulnerable students to attend summer school in-person four days a week.[iv]
Some federal funding will be steered towards summer programming in D.C. as well. Every summer, DCPS provides literacy enrichment for elementary students and credit recovery for secondary students. This summer, offerings will be expanded to include learning supports for every grade, including pre-kindergarten, and a range of in-person and virtual opportunities will be provided to more than 7,000 students.[v] Public charter schools are also planning to expand their summer programming. As of April 29, 2021, 122 out of 128 public charter campuses had released their summer programs and planned to offer credit recovery, summer school enrichment, and academic interventions, among other supports.[vi]
For families who would like to pursue summer options that prioritize socialization and student well-being, District agencies and publicly funded non-school agencies will also offer in-person programming this summer. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will offer over 90 camps across all eight wards. Some camps will focus exclusively on outdoor activities that will ease students back into in-person socialization while others will combine fitness with academics.[vii] The D.C. Public Library (DCPL) system will also host its annual summer reading challenge to encourage students to keep their minds engaged.[viii] Finally, the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) that typically provides paid jobs and career building opportunities for approximately 10,000 14-to-24-year-olds will be expanded. This summer, it will serve 13,000 participants and include a new “earn and learn” program that will allow some students to earn money while spending half their day on academics and the other half on acquiring work experience.[ix]
To learn more about what D.C.’s residents are hoping to find in summer programs this year, the D.C. Policy Center reached out to District agencies that offer summer programming, a student, and a parent to ask the following questions: What would an ideal summer look like for children and youth in D.C.? What are the opportunities and challenges around programs this summer?
Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, Director of The Washington D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES)
We want participants to explore different parts of the city, meet professional adults and like-minded students, and learn more about industries they don’t normally encounter in their daily lives.
The summer youth employment program aims to provide interesting and fun employment experiences for youth between the ages of 14 and 24. We want participants to explore different parts of the city, meet professional adults and like-minded students, and learn more about industries they don’t normally encounter in their daily lives. Our hope is that when they eventually choose a career path, their decisions will be informed by rich exposure to all the options available to them.
This year, we received more applications than in the last couple of years and we have added additional slots to ensure that we serve at least 13,000 youth. We are making two big shifts to serve them best: due to concerns regarding student safety, we are arranging virtual employment experiences for youth who are unable or unwilling to participate in person. We want to ensure that all participants can access professional development experiences, regardless of whether they are able to attend in-person. The second shift is that we’re launching earn and learn experiences that combine workforce development with academic support. This model will allow students to work part-time while they attend summer school or receive tutoring, so no students are forced to choose between earning money or focusing on their education. We hope this plan will ease the income loss and learning slide many students experienced in the last year.
As we plan for this summer, we are also prioritizing student safety. Since children are not yet eligible to receive vaccines, we’ve spent a lot of time making sure employers will adhere to strict safety standards. We’ve also spent time speaking with parents and youth to ensure they feel comfortable. D.C. is unique in that it offers a range of cultural and professional experiences. Our goal is to make those experiences accessible to D.C.’s youth, so that a student who has grown up steps from the Capitol can have the opportunity to step inside and work for a congressperson.
Gina Toppin, Deputy Director for Recreation Services, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation
Now, as COVID-19 cases continue to decline in the District, and more Washingtonians are vaccinated, I’m confident that we’ll be able to achieve an ideal summer that allows youth to return safely to some sense of normalcy and most importantly, FUN!
At the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), each year our goal is to provide a high-quality, equitable, and enriching urban camping experience to children and youth ages 3-13 – and this year is no different. It goes without saying the mental and physical toll the pandemic has taken on us all, especially children and youth who’ve struggled with adjusting to the switch to virtual-only social activities. Now, as COVID-19 cases continue to decline in the District, and more Washingtonians are vaccinated, I’m confident that we’ll be able to achieve an ideal summer that allows youth to return safely to some sense of normalcy and most importantly, FUN! Specifically, I’m looking forward to seeing recreation centers and both indoor and outdoor pools operate at 50% capacity, and splash pads reopen at 100% capacity. Washington, D.C. has one of the top-ranked park systems in the country and our recreation centers serve as pillars in the community and spaces for youth to experience positive personal growth through recreation. An ideal summer is one that allows DPR to foster youth development and family unification as we’ve done over the past several decades.
However, we are not quite on the other side of this public health crisis yet. We’re still counting on D.C. residents to do their part in mitigating the spread of the virus and to get vaccinated when it is their turn. As an agency, maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our campers, patrons, and staff remains our top priority. As such, all agency summer programs will adhere to DC Health and CDC public health guidelines. We know that due to social distancing restrictions there will be a limit on the number of youths we can serve safely in person. However, that also provides an opportunity for our agency to look at more creative ways to engage and reach those that are not enrolled in our programs so that we are maximizing our positive impact on D.C. youth.
Saudia Campbell, Student at Thurgood Marshall Academy
If the experience of participating in a summer program is functionally the same as attending school year-round, students will have a hard time finding the balance they need.
Summer programs this year should prioritize three main components: in-person student interaction, academic support, and student well-being. In the last year, many students have felt lonely. They want to see their friends and have fun, and summer programs provide a great opportunity to ease students back into in-person interactions. Every summer, I participate in Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Summer Prep Program, and it’s always so fun! We’re able to meet incoming students, take classes, and visit colleges in the area. It provides a good balance of socialization and preparation for the upcoming school year.
Addressing learning loss will also be important this summer, but I don’t think we should focus too much on this in the beginning. Many students have felt overwhelmed with distance learning. If the experience of participating in a summer program is functionally the same as attending school year-round, students will have a hard time finding the balance they need.
Finally, I think providing mental health support will be critical, as many students have experienced increased anxiety and stress over the last year. However, I don’t think counseling should be forced upon students. Resources should be made available, but counselors should allow students to come to them when the students feel ready.
The greatest challenges I foresee in implementing the ideal summer program this year are communication and safety. I think it’ll be hard to comfort parents and reassure them that their children are safe. I also think it’ll be difficult to make sure students follow safety protocols. To address this, I think schools will have to remain transparent and vigilant throughout the summer.
Marta Cruz, PAVE Parent
Students have lost an entire year of learning, and I think it’s crucial for us to design summer programs that focus on addressing learning loss.
I have two children who attend D.C. public schools. They had a really hard time adjusting to distance learning, and I struggled to help them with their assignments. I eventually considered transitioning them to home schooling due to a lack of transparency from DCPS. Fortunately, both of my children are attending school in-person now, and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in their well-being and their academics.
This summer, I’m hoping programs will provide further support for my children. Students have lost an entire year of learning, and I think it’s crucial for us to design summer programs that focus on addressing learning loss. Although the main focus of these programs should be academics, there should also be an emphasis on emotional health. Students can access the city’s cultural resources by visiting museums and monuments while learning the fundamentals. In addition, I don’t know what metrics DCPS is using to determine eligibility for summer programming, but if a student isn’t eligible, he or she should receive tutoring services throughout the school year as an alternative. After a year of virtual learning, I think all students would benefit from these types of in-person experiences.