As the 2020-21 school year drew to a close, a number of community organizations were concerned that summer supports for students would need to be more robust than ever to give students who struggled through COVID-19 disruptions and remote learning a fair chance to stay on track.
Angela Baber, executive director of the Jeffco Schools Foundation, worked with many of them. The excitement in her voice was palpable when she spoke about summer collaborations between community partners and the district.
She said the Jeffco K-12 Students Learning and Support Collaborative, a group of 60-70 community partners, was invested in finding solutions around summer supports for Jeffco students.
Annual programs like Jeffco’s Summer of Early Learning and high school credit recovery had been planned before, but the district was leaving other summer support programs up to individual schools, in hopes those schools could best assess students’ needs.
“JSEL, at that point in time, three months ago, had the lowest enrollment it had ever seen. So, we really pulled together and started pushing to find out why,” Baber said. “And then district leadership and Dr. Susan Leach (Jeffco’s chief student success officer) came into that conversation. Within a span of a month, we went from JSEL being offered at seven physical locations and one online site to double the capacity of enrollment we’ve ever seen in the history of JSEL and expansion geographically to double the physical sites.”
Community partners like The Action Center were invited to pitch in across the six-week long programs at each of the physical JSEL sites, providing direct supports like fresh groceries, produce, King Soopers gift cards and low-income internet assistance to students.
In addition, Baber said that although grade levels for JSEL itself which focuses on reading for K-3 students haven’t expanded, JSEL-relevant curriculum for grades 4 and 5 are being offered at JSEL locations and may be looked at as a pilot program for summer supports in future years.
Academics are not the only area of concern following this year like no other. Social and emotional supports have also been top of mind for many.
When asked for an interview with decision-makers about summer support programs, the district instead, agreed to provide written answers to direct questions.In their written response to questions about the availability of social/emotional supports, the district said: “Many of the programs offered for middle- and high- school level students have a social emotional/mental health component.”
As for emotional supports during the district’s upcoming Jump Start programs, the response was: “School Social Emotional Liaisons are part of the planning teams for Jump Start, so intentional integration of social emotional learning skills will be part of the daily curriculum.”
When asked about benchmarks or metrics community partners who received federal Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds would need to meet, the district’s response read: “Metrics for measuring effectiveness were developed by our research and assessment team. All programs (credit recovery, transition, intervention) will be measured using attendance data, a student pre/post survey, and a parent post survey. For the ninth-12th grade credit recovery programs, we will also measure credits earned/recovered. And for the academic intervention programs, we will measure using Spring 2021 to Fall 2021 MAP data.”
One of the recipients of ESSER funds from the district is Edgewater Collective. Executive Director Joel Newton said from the beginning, Edgewater Collective’s mission has been to bring people together to solve big issues in Edgewater.
Newton said they’ve been working with schools in the Jefferson Jr/Sr High School area since 2013, so it came naturally to them to step in to help with summer supports. He said when COVID hit, the relationships they had built over the last several years had given them a great starting point to implement different supports for students and families.
Last summer, his organization put on a “Lunch and Learn” program, pairing food support with a literacy program. That lead to an enrichment program during the school year called “Pathway Pods.”
“Then, in December 2020, we began to think about the summer — the Jefferson Success Academy grew out of those conversations because we’d always wanted to do a summer program for incoming fourth through sixth graders — that was in addition to JSEL,” he said. “So, we started planning that in December to really focus on providing academic support for students, paired with enrichment, for a six-week program.”
The Jefferson Success Academy program operates during the same days, times and dates as JSEL and offers students an hour each of literacy, math and enrichment, every day. It is being held at Edgewater Elementary.
Newton said a program called I-Ready allows them to assess student needs and fill in gaps where needed. Teachers from Jeffco and other districts, along with paraprofessionals from Edgewater area elementary schools, provide the academic instruction. Enrichment (art programming) is taught by a Denver group called Museo de las Americas. The program also provides physical education and STEM activities.
Noah Atencio is vice president of community impact of the Community First Foundation. He said they too got involved with the district as a result of the pandemic. They also gave out more than $400,000 in grants to a number of organizations including Edgewater Collective.
Atencio said as the end of the school year approached, it seemed to him that everyone was feeling tension over what was going to happen for students — not around the district’s plans, but a general tension of emerging from COVID with a sense of uncertainty as people started to receive vaccinations and things started opening up again.
He credits Baber for inviting district leadership to meet with community partners, spurring the expansion of JSEL and fleshing out programs for older elementary students, allowing for more of a one-stop approach.
Atencio said the summer response feels organized and acknowledged the hard work it’s taken to get to this point. He said if actions speak louder than words, new Superintendent Tracy Dorland’s level of engagement in a recent K-12 Collaborative meeting gives him a clear indication that she’s interested in working within the community.
Jump Start programs are set to begin the week of Aug. 2. Jeffco’s 2021-22 school year will begin Aug. 17.