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District 87 Using Summer To Rebuild Students' 'Social Stamina'

District 87's Diane Wolf says she's not concerned about academic learning loss from the pandemic, but students can use a little help resetting socially before the fall.
District 87's Diane Wolf says she's not concerned about academic learning loss from the pandemic, but students can use a little help resetting socially before the fall.

District 87 is using its free summer programming to help kids reset ahead of a return to in-person learning this fall.

Diane Wolf, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the goal is to get kids back into the social routines of going to school, as much as it is about preparing them academically.

“We are offering an elementary program that is a full-day program. It operates the same hours as a regular school day—9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It offers the school bus for transportation, breakfast and lunch, and has a combination of both academics and enrichment and exploring,” Wolf said.

She said that structure is meant to rebuild the “social stamina” of attending school in-person, after a year when students were learning remotely some or all of the time.

District 87 will continue its partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, Wolf said. For the first time, that program is open to incoming sixth graders. At the high school level, she said, the district will focus on incoming ninth graders—what do they need to prepare for the transition—all the way up through incoming seniors wanting to make sure they’re successful in their final year of high school.

Wolf said the isolation resulting from coronavirus pandemic could be a significant hurdle for students to overcome in the fall, as the school district looks to return to more traditional in-person learning.

“Working from being a remote student at home—or even an employee at home— it's a different type of social interaction when you have to get dressed, to go out in public and work through the social norms of going into a school building and being around other people that are not your family members, or your very close friends,” Wolf said.

She said students need to practice advocating for themselves when they feel lost, responding to different viewpoints in a constructive way and deciphering what’s acceptable and what’s not in a classroom setting.

All of that is hard to grasp over Zoom, she said.

Wolf said she’s not too concerned with so-called academic learning loss during the pandemic. She said students have learned plenty—even if it’s non-traditional— and schools are prepared to meet them where they are.

“I am absolutely adamant that we do not talk about a learning loss. And the reason why I feel so strongly about that is if we think about putting that into the head of a child, what does that say to them? That they've learned nothing?” Wolf said. “These students have lived through a global pandemic. They have learned technology skills and interaction skills that we would have never expected from them before. They have learned how to be self reliant. They have learned how to digest information in different formats.”

Wolf said teachers and administrators also have learned an immense amount about learning and student resiliency. She said things will look different for students in the fall, even if they’ve been going to school in-person.

But Wolf said those changes aren’t bad. She gave an example of where pandemic procedures actually helped the district better approach student growth:

“Our parent engagement is through the roof right now," she said. "We are talking to parents we haven't talked to in years because we now have a way that if they have a 15 minute break at work, we can Zoom. We can do a conference about their child's learning. That kid can be involved in that. And we're done in seven minutes.”

Wolf said the process before was onerous. Parents had to schedule time away from work, physically come to the school building, and sometimes spread themselves thin to make it happen. Technology has addressed all those problems, she said.

Still, Wolf said putting in some effort over the summer can help make students’ transition a little bit easier come August.

District 87’s summer programming has capacity for about 300 first-through fifth-graders—about one-sixth of the district’s elementary population. The middle school and high school programs will cap at around 100 students.

Interested families should contact the district by April 15.

Wolf said if parents can’t send their children, or are uncomfortable with that format due to COVID, there are things they can do at home to prepare for the fall.

“The number one thing I would ask all of my parents and all of our community is to not say to the child that they are behind because of the pandemic,” she said. “When somebody is told that they have lost something or they cannot do something, that does not go away easily. So, I would really ask that we change the conversation to say, ‘What have you learned and what can you work on this summer to even make you stronger?’”

Wolf said there are two great ways to do that: read every day and practice basic math comprehension. She also said not to shy away from screen time if that’s the format students are engaging and learning the most from.

WGLT's interview.

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