Oklahoma to Invest $14M in Summer Learning Programs

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will spend federal stimulus funds on summer-school initiatives to make up learning loss during the pandemic, as well as provide food, extracurriculars and mental health support.

Oklahoma State Capitol
The Oklahoma State Capitol
(Flickr/Drew Tarvin)
(TNS) — With sights on recovery from a disruptive pandemic, Oklahoma will dedicate millions to summer learning and youth programs.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will invest a minimum of $14 million in federal stimulus funds for summer enrichment through 2023. Individual school districts are leveraging their own federal aid to expand student learning opportunities after the school year ends this month.

"This has been a school year like no other, and it will be a summer like no other," state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister announced the $14 million initiative, called Ready Together Oklahoma, at a press conference Monday at Cesar Chavez Elementary with school district superintendents, non-profit representatives and tribal partners in attendance.

All public school districts in Oklahoma have resumed in-person learning at least two days a week. Although some districts, particularly in rural and suburban areas, offered face-to-face classes throughout the school year, urban districts spent more time in online learning and hybrid schedules.

All districts in state finished the last six weeks of the previous school year teaching remotely.

Many students opted for a full-time virtual curriculum this year, even if their schools allowed an in-person option. Others spent extended periods in quarantine, further adding to their time away from school.

Summer programs should take a "whole child" holistic approach to aid student recovery, Hofmeister said. They should address academic loss and provide food, extracurricular activities and mental health support.

"We want to focus on unfinished learning," Hofmeister said. "We need to get our kids back on track academically, and we need to support our young people who have been socially and emotionally disconnected due to the pandemic, quarantining and all kinds of unexpected turbulence and disruption this year."

The latest federal stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, allocated $1.5 billion to Oklahoma public schools in March. Districts must spend at least 20% of their federal aid to address learning loss and social-emotional needs. The remaining 80 percent is open for any other costs related to COVID-19.

The state Education Department can retain up to $149.4 million, about 10 percent of the $1.5 billion total, to give to districts or spend on grants. The $14 million summer initiative makes up 1 percent of the agency's reserved aid.

The state Education Department will award $6 million to the Oklahoma Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs and the Oklahoma Alliance of YMCAs to provide youth summer programming. The state agency will announce more available grants in the coming weeks for non-profits who will offer summer and after-school opportunities.

Oklahoma school districts also have summer enrichment plans, but school leaders said students must catch up on more than academics.

Sand Springs Superintendent Sherry Durkee said students missed critical time in the classroom as well as field trips, fine arts, extracurricular activities and socialization — experiences that make school more fulfilling.

Durkee said this summer is a chance to reclaim that.

"This is a time to think outside the box," she said.

Oklahoma City Public Schools will offer traditional invitation-only summer classes and new three-week enrichment programs open to all grades. The in-person programs, taking place June 7-25 and July 6-23, will include extracurricular activities in fine arts, the outdoors and healthy living, and STEAM — science, engineering, arts, technology and mathematics.

School buses will run 35 daily routes to ensure transportation isn't a barrier, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said. Virtual modules on Canvas and a reading challenge will be available this summer, as well.

Families in Millwood Public Schools are eager to enroll their children in summer programs, said Warren Pete, principal of the district's middle school, Millwood Arts Academy.

"They beat us to it," Pete said. "They're like, 'Are you having a summer school program? OK, sign my student up.'"

Millwood's high school summer programs will focus on credit recovery, but elementary and middle school grades will engage in hands-on activities. Students could create robots, build benches, dance, act, quilt and knit, Pete said.

The middle school and elementary summer programs each have about 300 openings for Millwood students.

"This summer school, it cannot be 'sit and get' where they sit down (and) do worksheets," Pete said. "We're going to make sure our students get every opportunity to do hands-on learning."

(c)2021 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.