TAMPA, Fla. — When schools shut down and went online during the pandemic, we knew the disruption would have an effect on students, we just didn’t know how significant it would be. Now, a year and a half after schools initially shut down and were thrust into a world of online learning, we’re seeing just how big the impact is.
Emily Manns just finished her first year of high school at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs.
“This one is a social butterfly so she needed that in front of a teacher, having to be around friends, so she didn’t do too hot at the end of 2020,” her mother, Jessica Manns, told ABC Action News.
Even though she went to class in person this year, Manns still had a hard time catching up and keeping up with shorter in-person schedules and more work on her own.
“Like biology, that was the one subject I really needed to catch up on,” she said.
“First semester she failed the first part of biology,” her mom said, “And then halfway through second semester, we got an email saying, 'It’d probably be best if you had your daughter attend credit recovery,' which is their summer school.”
The Manns' weren’t the only ones getting these emails about children falling behind in school.
“Even in a regular year, that sort of summer slide for students who are not getting support in the summer can be up to two months of learning loss,” said Kevin Hendrick, the associate superintendent for teaching and learning at Pinellas County Schools. “So when you couple that with a couple of months out of school, then the summer, and then maybe not coming back right away with, you know, direct instruction that maybe wasn't as good on the computer, it could be up to six months worth of learning loss.”
But the loss isn’t particular to just one district.
“About 4% or more of our students are about one or more grade levels behind than historically,” said Terry Conner, the deputy superintendent for Hillsborough County Public Schools.
So just how bad is the learning loss? We pulled fourth quarter grades in middle and high schools in Pinellas County and the decline is evident.
In high schools, A’s in English language arts dropped 6%, with nearly 4% more F’s.
Math suffered the most… 13% fewer students received A’s, D’s went up 3%, and F’s went up 8%.
As for middle schoolers, A’s in both English and math went down about 5%, but less students received failing grades. More students are receiving B’s and C’s.
In Hillsborough County, the district provided at-risk data for elementary school students that showed a 3% increase in students at risk of failing in both English and math.
Due to this loss, districts expanded their summer school programs which are yielding the highest enrollments they’ve ever seen.
“We're doing it at more schools, and more sites every high school every middle school, and about three-quarters of our elementary schools about 60 of our 78 elementary schools,” Hendrick explained.
Pinellas schools enrolled more than 3,000 additional students this summer than in 2019.
Hillsborough County schools added about 7,000 more students.
Pasco County schools doubled their summer enrollment and Polk County added about a thousand additional students.
The question is: Will summer school be enough?
“This is going to take time to recover,” Hickman answered, “It won't just happen over the summer, we will continue to address the student's needs individually, as we progress throughout the next year.”
As for the Manns, they weren’t thrilled that summer school was online, but Mann’s mother is optimistic.
“I feel like it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be, but she did excel, and she finished early, which is good… and I think she’ll be okay going into her sophomore year,” she said.
The additional costs of these expanded summer school programs are coming from a few different revenue streams. For example, in Polk County, summer school in 2019 cost about $1.3 million dollars, this year it’s near $5 million dollars.
The district said some funding will come from their general fund, but most will come from Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act as well as other federal stimulus dollars.
If your child could not attend summer school this year, we looked into what free resources are out there for you.
Local libraries are offering a series of activities and even online tutoring or college-ready prep.
In Hillsborough County, they’re running a summer reading challenge with cool tech prize raffles. They also do virtual events, including tech topics in both English and Spanish, story-time and zoo events.
“During the summer, especially when kids have a little bit of time off, they can come and kind of rediscover and maybe discover for the first time what it is that we provide,” said Matthew David, the learning experiences manager for Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries. “This is a very important summer for kids and for families, people of all ages.”
To access certain resources, you may need a library card which you can get in-person or online.