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Missouri is expanding access to summer school this year to address learning loss

Kindergarten students backpacks and jackets hand on the wall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Students' jackets and backpacks hang in a kindergarten classroom at the Stix Early Childhood Center in Forest Park Southeast.

This year, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is sending out grants to school districts to expand summer school throughout the state.

The money is for school districts and charters that either haven’t had summer school in the past or have, but didn’t claim specific types of state aid for programs last year. In all, the state has reserved about $20 million for the program, money that will come from federal funding for COVID relief through the American Rescue Plan Act.

In the St. Louis region, multiple districts are eligible for the program, and a handful are taking advantage of it. Those include Riverview Gardens, the City of St. Charles School District and two elementary districts in Franklin County.

Before the pandemic, the City of St. Charles School District hadn’t had district-wide summer school since the 2008 recession. It continued to offer summer school for special education students with individualized education plans, but it was not available for other students.

Last year, the district reinstated summer school, and this year it is expanding its offerings through this statewide program.

“This is definitely a much larger scope for summer school and summer learning than what we've had in many years,” said Danielle Tormala, an associate superintendent in the district. “We are so lucky to have the additional funding that's coming our way. We've been able to put some very creative solutions in place to support the academic, social and emotional needs of our students.”

For smaller and more rural school districts, this funding could mean students are able to attend summer school for the first time.

“We wanted summer school available everywhere we could get it to be available this summer across the state and where we hadn't seen any summer school, we wanted it to start,” said Chris Neale, assistant commissioner with Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

This is part of the ongoing effort to help students recover learning that was lost in the pandemic. In St. Charles, Tormala hopes added time in class will give students the advantage they need right now.

“With COVID, we immediately saw the learning gaps that our students were having, just simply due to the emergency closure, the virtual instruction, the differences in education, in the classroom setting,” Tormala said. “If we don't get a handle on the learning loss and the learning gap, it becomes a very quick game of snowballing where those gaps just get wider and wider and wider.”

School districts still have time to apply for the program; applications close June 1. A list of eligible school districts can be found on DESE’s website.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke 

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio.