Stamford offers ‘complete overhaul’ of summer school, mixing fun with academics

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — Attending summer school might not traditionally be any student’s idea of excitement, but one school official in Stamford is hoping to change that.

“We want to make it more engaging and fun,” said Amy Beldotti, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

In the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stamford only offered summer school to students in grades K-3 — apart from high school summer courses — during a four-week period for three hours a day. Beldotti said those classes were primarily designed for students who were struggling with reading and math.

This summer, the district is offering six weeks of classes, for five hours a day, for students from grades K-8, and an extra three hours every day for “enrichment time” provided by a variety of community partners.

And the focus won’t be entirely on academics. While each school day will include two classes in either reading, math or science, the other two classes will be devoted to arts, music, technology, and physical education.

“It’s a complete overhaul of what we’ve done in the past,” Beldotti said. “We’re gonna try to get our kids moving and thinking and back together socially.”

To top it off, the district is introducing a theme for the first time, incorporating the upcoming summer Olympics in Tokyo into the program.

Stamford-based NBC Sports will even be involved, Beldotti said, as students will likely be exposed to Olympics coverage and a behind-the-scenes look at production.

“We’re very excited,” Beldotti said.

Andy George, a member of the Stamford Board of Education and chairperson of the board’s Teaching, Learning and Community Committee, said the summer program is meant to respond to the negative effects of COVID-19, which forced education online and led to learning loss among students.

“It’s all about trying to catch up the learning that was lost rather than the alternative of holding children back,” he said.

According to data released by the school district about two months ago, roughly 40 percent of freshmen at the city’s three high schools are not on track for graduation. Among sophomores, that figure is 37 percent.

Back in March, the district also released data on how students fared on the DIBELS assessment, or dynamic indicators of basic early literacy skills.

Those figures showed that 45 percent of kindergarten students and 43 percent of first graders were below benchmark, for example. Second graders fared better, with 33 percent under the benchmark, while 27 percent of third graders were below or well below the acceptable score. The under-benchmark figure for fourth and fifth grade students was between 29 and 33 percent.

The percentage at or above the acceptable standard improved in all grade levels, however, from the beginning of the year, with the exception of third and fifth grade.

One concern for George is making sure there is enough staff to support a more robust program, especially since other districts will be offering similar services.

“It’s not guaranteed that we will have enough staff to handle what all our needs are,” he said.

Funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, through the COVID-19 relief CARES Act, will cover the extra expenses of the summer program.

When asked if the new summer school program could become a yearly offering, Beldotti said, “It’s an expensive model.”

She then added, “We think it’s worth it to give our kids this opportunity coming out a pretty challenging year.”

Last year was actually the first time the district opened up summer school for grade 4-8, but classes were offered entirely online.

“Last summer was really pretty dreadful for a lot of kids,” Beldotti said.

Before the onset of the pandemic, officials had decided to do a theme for summer school and had settled on the Olympics, set to take place in 2020.

“But then the Olympics got canceled and we went virtual,” Beldotti said.

So this year, with the beefed up summer programming, and the Olympics scheduled to take place, Beldotti suggested they bring the idea back.

“This summer, we’re trying to do it big,” she said.

The summer school program is free to families and registration is open. Classes will run from June 28 to Aug. 6. Students will be provided with breakfast and lunch on school days.

Classes for elementary students will take place at Toquam Magnet Elementary School, Stark Elementary School, Strawberry Hill Elementary School and the Rogers International School. The middle school program will take place at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, while high school classes will be at Stamford High School.

“We’re ready to go,” Beldotti said.