Atlanta aims to enroll 20,000 students in summer school

Registration is open until April 30 for the Atlanta Public Schools' expanded summer school program. AJC FILE PHOTO

Registration is open until April 30 for the Atlanta Public Schools' expanded summer school program. AJC FILE PHOTO

Thousands of Atlanta students could spend much of their summer break in school as the district plans a $15 million effort to boost reading and math skills due to the pandemic’s disruption of education.

Atlanta Public Schools hopes to enroll an estimated 20,000 students in a four-week program that begins June 2.

If APS reaches that target, it would represent more than half of the 38,000 students who attend district-run schools and change what summer looks like for many. Atlanta’s charter schools are making their own remediation plans for the quarter of APS students who attend those schools.

While all students across all grades can participate, schools are strongly encouraging those who struggled academically before and during the pandemic to sign up.

“This is a very different lift, but one that we know is so needed,” said Chief Academic Officer Yolonda Brown.

Registration for the virtual and in-person Summer Academic Recovery Academy is open through the end of the month.

APS estimates it will spend $13 million in federal stimulus funds on this summer’s effort, the first of a three-year push to extend learning after the traditional school year ends in May.

It budgeted another $2.3 million to provide on-site child care as an incentive for more than 1,800 teachers the district says are needed to run the program.

Atlanta school leaders sought legal advice about making participation mandatory for some students. Brown said they backed off that idea because there was limited time to plan for the ramped-up program.

Enrollment estimates also dropped from an initial 28,000 to about 20,000. Still, that number would dwarf the 10,000 average daily attendance from the summer of 2019.

Neighboring Fulton County Schools expects to quadruple its typical summer attendance by enrolling more than 30,000 students in its program.

With school districts aiming to serve many more students, camps and other traditional summer program providers are calling for partnerships that include them.

Camp leaders, parks and recreation departments and schools should work together “to provide summer learning experiences of all kinds to all children,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, which serves 15,000 day and overnight camps across the nation.

“It’s going to be a powerful summer,” he said. “I think there’s a call to action right now around summer learning as an essential part around a child’s year-long learning landscape.”

APS is asking outside groups to make time in their morning schedule for students attending their programs to log into the district’s virtual lessons focusing on math and literacy. In the afternoon, when APS switches to enrichment and project-based activities, off-site students could rejoin their camp or club’s regular programming.

Katie Landes, director of the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network, has reservations about that idea. She said students need academic support this summer. But instead of asking children to spend more time online, schools should collaborate with other providers, a number of which are staffed by certified teachers.

“We fully believe that there are some summer learning programs [that] are fully prepared to be tackling that academic recovery,” she said.

Many children who attend Horizons Atlanta’s program each summer are the same students APS is urging to enroll in its June session. Alex Wan, the nonprofit’s executive director, said Horizons enrolls about 1,200 students at 10 sites. Roughly two-thirds are Atlanta students. Once APS announces what curriculum it will use this summer, Horizons will align its lessons, he said.

“There’s no need to compete because there’s plenty of need and potentially not enough capacity,” Wan said.

Staff at King Middle School in Atlanta will promote the academic as well as the enrichment opportunities, such as cooking and art classes, that students will experience if they come to school in June.

Students are excited to see their friends and teachers again, said Principal Paul Brown.

“Kids have been excited to get back into the building even though they know it’s one extra month,” he said.

About the APS Summer Academic Recovery Academy

Who is eligible: All students in prekindergarten through 12th grade

When: June 2-30

Register by: April 30

Format: Students can attend in-person or online

Projected enrollment: 20,000

Number of sites: more than 30

Number of teachers: 1,870

Other details: APS will provide transportation and meals