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Kevin East, President of The Mentoring Alliance, talks about the academic improvements seen in children who attend the Rose City Summer Camps during the organization’s annual luncheon on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 at the Green Acres Crosswalk Center. The Mentoring Alliance serves children and families through three programs: Boys & Girls Clubs of East Texas, Rose City Summer Camps, and Gospel Village. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

As educators across the state begin looking toward summer learning, they are doing so with far more challenges than ever before due to the coronavirus shuttering classrooms for the past three months.

Most students in Texas haven’t set foot in a physical classroom since early March, and while school districts made adjustments to create distance-learning models, educators acknowledge that those setups are no substitution for in-class learning.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced summer camps and youth camps can begin operating on May 29, and schools can host summer school starting June 1.

Jacksonville Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Chad Kelly said that while the district is eager to get students in classrooms for summer school to combat potential learning loss, there are going to be challenges. Those hurdles are both regulatory and personal for families.

“We are very committed to ensuring our students are performing at grade level,” he said. “Logistically it is going to be very difficult to get the amount of kids I would like to get in there.”

That’s because the state is limiting classrooms to 11 people total, and each “pod” will have to use separate entrances to ensure they are not coming into contact with other groups.

Kelly said bus service is going to be very difficult because a standard school bus will only be able to transport about 13 students with social distancing rules in effect.

“Bus transportation will be minimal, we would try to really depend on families to get their children to the school,” he said.

Attendance also cannot be made compulsory, and teachers will have to keep six feet distance between themselves and each student.

A positive case of COVID-19 will require a two-week closure for anyone who may have had contact with the infected person, according to reporting from the Texas Tribune.

Kelly said that the end of the school year does not mean the end of distance learning opportunities. He said the district is committed to ensuring students will have material to learn with throughout the summer, whether it is online or packets picked up at summer feeding at East Side Elementary School.

“We are doing that currently, and we are actually going to increase that over the summer,” he said, adding that the Texas Education Agency also is set to offer parents access to additional learning material.

In Tyler, Rose City Summer Camps announced they will be moving forward with their expanded programming this summer. The day camp, which is operated by The Mentoring Alliance as a partnership with Tyler ISD, focuses on academic learning, social and emotional growth and faith based teaching. In past years, the program has offered demonstrable results, with attendees seeing significantly less summer learning loss than their peers who did not attend.

Suzette Farr, vice president of Community Engagement for TMA, said that in addition to the academic challenges, they recognize the need for emotional support for students.

“We know there’s a chance that being home for so long they may have (higher stress levels),” she said. “We want to give them time to engage with people and talk with them.”

The program is expanding to two additional sites, with room for up to 900 students per week between the four locations on Tyler ISD campuses.

“We are so aware that kids haven’t had in-school learning since spring break in Tyler, and that there are a lot of parents who maybe weren’t able to stay home and help,” she said.

Farr said that the educators and camp counselors at Rose City recognize, now more than ever, how important it will be to reverse potential summer learning loss.

While adjustments will have to be made to ensure they are able to accurately assess each student’s needs, Farr said the organization is working with Tyler ISD and is ready to do their part for the families in Tyler.

Rose City Summer Camps will run each week day from June 1 through July 24 at Tyler ISD’s Boulter, Hubbard, Moore and Three Lakes middle schools. Financial assistance is available.

For more information, visit www.rosecitysummercamps.com.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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