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Increased Summer Programming Opportunities Begin in Remote Setting

For students and staff across CCSD59, the middle of June could mean several different things. Outgoing eighth grade students are beginning preparations for high school, while others could already be on family trips. 

For some, the school year rolls into July in the form of summer programming. This traditionally includes in-person learning, but, like so many times in recent months, new challenges have come with instruction for this summer. 

“As soon as the state closed buildings for the entire school year, discussions about our summer programming plans started to change,” said Michelle Benages, Math Facilitator at CCSD59. “We had to alert families, send out surveys, find new materials that students could access remotely, and provide training.”

Summer courses at CCSD59 are among many throughout Illinois that changed dramatically once instruction shifted to remote learning. Math and literacy courses are the traditional primary learning opportunities offered during the summer, with a few enrichment courses aimed at special interest subjects. While new courses have been piloted during the summer in recent years, staff now had to focus on what programs would best serve students on digital platforms. For Benages and Alyssa Kocher, Literacy Facilitator at CCSD59, that meant working with Innovative Learning and Communications to ensure that every student enrolled had a suitable device and was equipped with the knowledge of how to access these new resources.

“Students are receiving synchronous learning, so they will be following the same lessons at the same time,” said Kocher. “This allows for whole group instruction, small group lessons, and time to work independently to finish each day’s lesson.” 

The courses, which began on Monday, run staggered so that students can participate in both math and literacy if desired. Each course meets twice per week, with the first of two sessions wrapping up at the beginning of July.

Staff also wanted to provide students with a greater variety of special interest subjects, so the number of enrichment courses was bolstered to 22. These cover physics, coding, art, music, broadcast journalism, and social emotional wellness, among others. Each course is designed by teachers, and learning opportunities were provided to students across all grade levels. 

“The enrollment surpassed our expectations. We have close to 500 students participating in our math and literacy courses alone. The best part is all programs are free for our families. We have tried to make this programming a priority during this difficult time.”

While there is heavy focus on a smooth continuation of instruction through digital platforms, it was still vital to get physical materials to students. The district Instruction Department purchased kits with appropriate books and other materials designed to help students throughout their courses. Families visited the CCSD59 Professional Development & Administration Center in recent weeks to collect these materials via a curbside service. The district also utilized its taxi service to deliver materials to families that could not make the trip. 

“The students were excited to get their bag of math manipulatives and book packs. Some of their faces lit up with the biggest smile when they saw what they were getting for their course,” said Benages. “Those materials are for each student to keep. One student expressed how much they felt the manipulatives were going to help them next year.” 

With this new style of programming in its first week, Kocher and Benages are already seeing benefits. Some digital platforms that are in action during the summer can now be evaluated for further use once the school year begins. They are eager to see how the coursework can provide students with a stronger understanding of the subjects while keeping them engaged.

“We want them to stay excited about learning and enjoy connecting with other students and teachers from around the district who they may not typically see. We also hope that all staff involved find this experience to be a valuable learning opportunity for instructing in a  remote setting.”

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