New Jersey Department of Education

Guiding Principles for Summer Learning

The following principles should guide LEAs’ approach to summer learning.

Lead with empathy and without assumption.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated a myriad of social, emotional, and physical challenges for New Jersey students, educators, and their respective families. Identifying, acknowledging, and affirming challenges is the first step toward helping all members of our school communities.

Ensure that all students have equitable access to rigorous learning opportunities and high-quality resources.

It is key for school leaders to regularly evaluate their schools’ progress toward closing educational access and opportunity gaps for students of color, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and English Language Learners. The goal of summer educational programming, both this year and in upcoming years, is not to return to the status quo, but to transform summer learning to create more equitable learning conditions for all students.

Consider the availability of explicit programming for vulnerable student populations and those students who need to meet promotion benchmarks and gain high school credit.

Provide, where necessary, additional consistent and sustained support for specific students, especially economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, students with disabilities, students who are migrants, and students experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and other potentially vulnerable student populations. An internal needs assessment will help to ensure that federal funds, including funding from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund are being utilized most effectively to address the additional supports that are needed in conjunction with and apart from what is identified in a student’s IEP.

Expand summer programming to all students.

While it is crucial to reach vulnerable student groups, most students in our school communities will have some degree of academic, social, and/or emotional need. Opening participation to all students will remove the stigma associated with summer learning and allow all students an opportunity to connect with caring school staff, as well as other students. Consider using federal funds, within the parameters of allowable activities, to expand summer programming. American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER)’s Evidence-Based Summer Learning and Enrichment Activities Grant, for example, may be used to support evidence-based academic summer activities such as learning academies and 1:1 tutoring, as well as other summer activities that support the broader learning ecosystem of students, staff, and families.

Prioritize student engagement.

Given the demands on students’ and families’ time, it is particularly important for summer programming to be highly engaging and accessible. Center programming around high-interest topics, real-world problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. Work to embed essential academic content and skills into this high-engagement programming. Also, consider offering shorter summer sessions for learning acceleration in one, two, and/or three-week intervals.

Focus on student success for the coming school year.

Beyond remediating learning gaps from the school year, provide summer learning activities that are aligned to upcoming, grade-level standards. Use summer to innovate and pilot new learning acceleration strategies and structures to meet students’ unique needs in advance of the coming school year. Utilizing a multi-tiered system of supports, such as New Jersey Tiered System of Support (NJTSS), will allow school districts to target their resources most effectively. You can access the NJTSS’ website here: NJTSS.

Focus summer learning on a few critical areas while recognizing instructional fatigue.

Identify the most essential standards or knowledge and skills that students need to gain to start the school year successfully. Prioritize daily instruction in areas of core curricular concepts and consider developing learning activities that weave these concepts into other content areas, like STEM education and Visual and Performing Arts. Given the academic fatigue experienced by some students during the summer months, LEAs are encouraged to use high-engagement and high-interest content and activities that emphasize experiential, multi-disciplinary learning in order to boost student participation in summer programs. Learning acceleration and enrichment do not have to be mutually exclusive. For example, consider integrating English Language Arts activities that incorporate global awareness and promote civic responsibility, integrate computer science coding experiences, as well as comprehensive health and physical education.

Train teachers to effectively support summer learning and hire additional staff as necessary.

Instructional staff should have relevant content and pedagogical knowledge, as well as track records of success in teaching the targeted grade levels. LEAs should supplement instructional staff with specialized support personnel as needed. Capitalize on summer school opportunities to onboard and train recently certified educators and provide ongoing professional development for new and existing staff. ARP ESSER funds may be used to provide professional development for educators through professional learning communities or to expand the supports provided such as hiring additional aides or teachers for the summer learning program. LEAs should explore ways to hire high school and college students, especially those seeking to enter the field of education.

Prioritize regular communication with families and students.

Consider how and when students best engage in learning and determine whether families are equipped to support their children’s learning. LEAs may utilize ARP ESSER funding to develop educational and training programs for parents and caregivers in understanding grade level expectations and supporting student learning.

Engage a cross-functional team in front-end planning.

Teachers, principals, counselors, and supervisors are front-line educators and supporters of students. School leaders should ensure that their voices and needs, as well as those of other key stakeholders, are considered in the development of the plan for summer programming. Include community-based partners that can provide support either in-person or virtually and parents, who often monitor their children’s work. Explore creating partnerships with community-based organizations that will continue throughout the school year.

Prepare current remote-learning best practices.

In the event of a temporary shift to remote instruction, be prepared to adjust to utilize the best practices discovered during the pandemic.

Coordinate efforts with local community groups to provide in-person social emotional learning supports and high-interest learning options, in addition to academic summer learning.

City recreation departments, Boys and Girls Clubs, robotics initiatives, coding camps, and the YMCA/YWCA are examples of organizations and activities that can provide in-person Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) supports and high-interest learning experiences. This is a time ripe for schools to engage the entire community. LEAs should explore partnerships that can be extended into the regular school year.

Continue to Utilize Extended School Year (ESY) Opportunities

ESY services are intended to support the maintenance of skills and prevent regression over the summer break. It is the role of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, which includes school district officials and the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s), to determine the need for and the type of ESY services based on the needs of the individual student. IEP teams should consider the impact of quarantine periods or other instructional interruptions due to COVID-19 that may have impacted a student’s progress toward the goals and objectives in their IEP when determining whether a student is eligible for an ESY program. In addition, the IEP team may determine that learning interruptions that occurred during the school year have resulted in the need for compensatory services.  Those compensatory services may be provided during ESY or other programming provided to students during the summer. It is important to note that summer programming options offered to all students, such as enrichment programs to address learning loss during COVID-19, must be made available to students with disabilities. Questions about participation in a district’s summer learning program should be addressed by the student’s IEP team because depending on the nature and type of programming, participation in a summer program may need to be included in the student’s IEP.

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