Kids crowd classrooms for summer months

Sharon Russell, an art teacher for fourth and fifth grade, talks to 9-year-old fourth-graders Garrett Bennett, left, and Brayden Beserock during Camp Innovation at The Villages Charter 4th and 5th Grade Center.

Some schools will see summer enrollment nearly as high as it is in regular fall and spring semesters this year. The COVID-19 pandemic was predicted to wreak havoc on the school year. Many school districts found themselves dealing with “COVID-19 slide,” an issue in retention due to the stress of the pandemic and changes in learning style. In the tri-county area, Lake, Sumter and Marion counties are preparing for summer sessions to help students get to where they need to be. With the pandemic losing its grip on American education, nearly all Florida school districts are providing opportunities for students to recover, catch up and move on from the tumultuous year. To graduate at public, private and charter high schools in the state of Florida, students must maintain a minimum of a 2.0 GPA in a 24-credit hour program to graduate, advance in a grade or participate in high school sports. Any deviation from the school’s prescribed graduation plan for a student that does not meet subject or GPA requirements will prevent a student from graduating on time.

Summer school programs offer the opportunity for those students to make up failed or lost credits so they can move on to the next grade or graduate from a school.


Charter School Sets Sights High

The Villages Charter School is initiating its own protocols for the summer semester.

At the Villages High School, usually summer classes are held in a computer lab for 18 to 20 students seeking grade recovery through providers like Florida Virtual School. This year, a specialized session will be held with five teachers across a four-week period, a large expansion to deal with a new larger need for students who have not passed courses or need to get back on track to graduate.

Not every student’s shortcomings are the same, and neither are their needs.

Whether their issue is missing a required subject or failing a class in general, they may not be able to graduate or move on to the next grade level.

“Our need has increased for a variety of reasons, (and) each student has a unique story and will have a unique need for recovery,” said VHS Vice Principal Teresa Alvarado. “We are fortunate to be able and well-equipped to meet their needs with this expanded opportunity.”

The primary goal of this session is to retain “100% graduation rates,” by not holding any students back a grade or preventing them from obtaining their diplomas on time.

Students can recover up to 2.5 credits in summer sessions, if needed, but Alvarado said most don’t need that many credits.

Last year, The Villages Middle School conducted its Jumpstart Summer Camp to meet the needs of initial issues arising from the pandemic. The camp was held last summer, offering middle school students the opportunity to start their classes early.

After decisions were made to push back the school year’s official start date from Aug. 6 to Aug. 19, other optional enrichment courses like Jumpstart Summer Camp were utilized as a way to start students in their coursework for the year ahead.

The camp was offered for only a week and focused on math and reading skills primarily.

The charter school will not be hosting Jumpstart Summer Camp or other stopgap enrichment programs this year.

Other Sumter Schools Take Charge

Wildwood Middle High School will run five different programs this summer, just as it did last year. The courses will run K-12 hosted by 10 teachers, administrators and staff.

Wildwood Middle High School Principal Jerry Graybeal said there were many difficulties in the year from online learning challenges to scheduling, but the summer school program will have “normal” enrollment numbers, neither increasing nor decreasing significantly. 

“We took a bunch of negatives and turned it into a positive year still,” Graybeal said.

South Sumter High School faced its own unique struggles this year as well. In the rural handle of the county, the online learning environment proved to be especially challenging to students. The county even worked to mitigate the problem by driving buses with Wi-Fi hot spots through communities without broadband access.

“Due to internet access issues, a number of our students chose to come to school rather than deal with the complications of poor internet access,” SSHS Principal Allan Shirley said. “Most difficulties in reaching students have centered around limited ability to hold virtual students accountable for attendance, work completion, etc.”

SSHS still will be having its standard summer school courses, but rising eighth-grade students will have a unique summer camp experience to get acclimated with the campus instead of the traditional visitation.

Normal summer school programs will be retained at SSHS, in similar programs to last year, with 9-12 grade offerings for students.

Marion Schools Mark Summer Enrollment Record

Marion County seems to be the hardest hit of the three counties with its largest summer school enrollment on record.

The county schools’ summer programs have expanded to the largest report in 15 years, with thousands of students and faculty reporting in for a lengthy and expansive summer semester. 

Every single one of the district’s 32 elementary schools will be offering different programs to deal with their students’ needs. All public middle schools also will be offering at least one program for students in the summer.

As of Tuesday, schools documented a massive enrollment surge of 4,626 students for summer school programs — and it was growing still.

This is up about 275% from numbers two years ago, according to the district’s Public Relations Director Kevin Christian. 

The Marion County School Board is still debating mask requirements for summer school as it also will utilize $5.8 million in federal relief funds during the semester.

Over 1,600 personnel, including teachers and support staff, will be participating in this year’s programs.

Lake Looks To Serve Students

Nearby, Lake County’s situation is still developing.

As of last week, over 500 kids had signed up for summer school programs, but this number is expected to rise to at least 1,500. Instead of the usual three summer school sites, there will be 10 servicing students from Pre-K to grade 12 this year.

The teachers and administrative staff members participating in summer school are expected to rise along with the enrollment to meet the needs of the students. The programs will function much like a normal semester with lunches, breakfasts and bell schedules.

According to Katie Pearson, executive director of academic services and interventions for Lake County Schools, the main goal of this is to “prevent retention” — in other words, to move on to their next grade level or graduate.

“Our goal is to make sure our kids don’t suffer and are able to succeed,” Pearson said.

Schools Statewide Handle Summer Education Needs

The long-term effects the pandemic and its “COVID-slide” had on Florida schools and students this year will be tricky to understand for a while.

In Tallahassee, Emergency Order 2021-EO-02 was issued last month to allow “districts and schools to opt-in, at their discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to school grades or improvement ratings for each individual school.”

This includes seniors at high schools who have their own provision stipulating they can graduate if their “high school record demonstrates a comparable level of achievement to state assessments.”

In other words, students’ pass or fail grades for the 2020-21 school year can be determined and adjusted based on prior academic records on a case-by-case and school-by-school basis.

Schools taking this option will not have their data automatically put into the release of 2020-21 school year reports by the Florida Department of Education. 

Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or