District Preparing for Return of In-Person Learning for 2021-22 School Year with Summer Program
There’s no question that these past 10 months made for the most unique and difficult school year ever for students in all grades across the country. The transition to remote learning and hybrid learning for many was challenging, to say the least.
In a live, 90-minute talk show entitled “Moving Beyond The Pandemic,” the Mount Vernon City School District on Thursday, June 17, discussed the plan to achieve a full transition to traditional in-person learning by having up to 3,000 students attend summer school – even if their grades do not reflect the need to attend.
“This will be the most robust summer school we’ve ever had,” said MVCSD Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton.
“We are looking forward to getting back to our new version of normalcy in September,” said Dr. Waveline Bennett-Conroy, Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement.
Dr. Bennett-Conroy noted that not only do students have to learn how to learn in-person again, but they need to learn “how to socialize again.”
The talk show was peppered with fun videos welcoming parents and students back for summer school and the start of the new school year in September. That included a rap video produced by staff custodian David Clark and a performance of the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance by teachers at Benjamin Turner Middle School, who used the routine to tell students how thrilled they were to have them back.
Dr. Hamilton said the district plans to be 100 percent in-person in September. Mount Vernon will not require students to be vaccinated but will encourage it.
Based on what administrators learned over the last 12-15 months from the pandemic, some new programs will be in place. Dr. Jeff Gorman, Deputy Superintendent of Schools, said the district plans to meet with as many students as it can once a month, starting with summer school.
“It’s not only for kids who are failing or have big gaps in classwork” Dr. Gorman said. “We encourage them to go to summer school to assimilate again.”
Dr. Hamilton also re-introduced the established concept of ‘Wellness Wednesdays,’ which was used this school year. He noted that instead of checking on homework, this time the days will be used to check on home life.
“It’s a chance for us to sit around a table and talk about their anxieties, their fears, their frustration, and lend them a toolkit to deal with the idea of coming back to school,” he said.
To that end, Mount Vernon will be working with noted Brooklyn-based psychiatrist Dr. Adjoa Smalls-Mantey.
“We want to implement a plan for kids to be able to talk with someone other than friends and family,” Smalls-Mantey said. She emphasized that “People are smart. They recognize when they are not functioning like they normally do. Whether it’s the pandemic, or the social and racial recognition going on in our country, people want to thrive, not just survive.”
Summer school will serve all students. It will be in-person for all grades: Pre-Kindergarten, K-6, Middle School and High School, with the expectation that upward of 3,000 students will take advantage of the program. Dr. Hamilton assured parents that Mount Vernon has already taken steps to move classes into rooms that have air conditioners or to upgrade rooms at its school to a temperature-controlled environment.
Dr. Gayle White-Wallace, Director of Pre-Kindergarten and Standards Administrator-ELA/Literacy, Reading and Social Studies at the Mount Vernon City School District, said 90 students will participate in kindergarten prep, emphasizing a fun, non-traditional summer. “We’re gonna get dirty. We’re gonna get wet,” she said. “We are going to explore and investigate and we’re going all day long. We’re throwing away the technology and we’re going to have campfires and sing songs and have yoga and art and African dance. And Tuesdays will be our special guest day. We might even have a mad scientist come in.”
The K-6 program will include a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) component in the afternoons (1-3 p.m.) that will include lessons taught by Just Inspire and the Liberty Science Center. Beyond the traditional schoolwork, students will also learn such life skills as how to plant a garden.
Middle School students will follow what Benjamin Turner Middle School Principal Dr. Pauline Pearce described as a RESET curriculum.
Engage in numerous group therapies
Screen addiction detox
Electives such as cosmetology, entrepreneurship and culinary arts
Transitioning to the next grade level
And as for students from the district’s three high schools, there will be a heavy emphasis on English Language Arts (ELA), Math and Reading. Students will also have the chance to participate in what Mount Vernon is calling its “Summer Credit Recovery Program.” It’s an opportunity for any student who failed up to three classes to make up those credits in summer school.
“Parents, this is the kind of program other communities have to pay money for,” Dr. Hamilton said. “Please take full advantage of it. It will give the kids something constructive to do and keep them engaged during the summer.”