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In Miami-Dade school’s out, but summer learning about to start

Students from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary classes can catch a wave this summer.

An academic wave, that is.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is expanding its summer offerings, largely through technology and web-based courses.

So, even though Thursday marks the last day of the official school year, there’s still time to learn.

The expansion, approved by the School Board in May, comes after three difficult years, when many summer programs in Florida took budget hits. Miami-Dade has managed to maintain limited summer offerings.

“For the first time, we are going back to what summer school used to be - through technology,” said Millie Fornell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The program, dubbed the Summer Waves of Learning Initiative, will target students in three main ways:

•  those who need remediation or need to recover credits in subjects like reading and algebra

•  allow students to continue learning skills and compensate for the time away from school during the summer months

• and give more students access to summer school through technology, dubbed the “e-learning wave.”

The idea is students in all grades and at any academic level can access digital learning at home or on computers at public libraries, neighborhood resource centers, county and municipal parks and recreational centers.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the initiative will try to bridge the gap from the end of one school year to the start of the next and create a “constant perpetual wave of learning.” Many students in South Florida and across the nation fall behind in math and reading during the summer. “I favor a year-round approach,” Carvalho said.

To meet students at their level, the district’s web-based platform will access a student’s performance on standardized exams and then determine what level of lesson is appropriate.

Carvalho said the cost for the program - $9 million from federal grants and state funds - is the same as the previous budget. But the number of students will grow. Last year, there were 18,500 seats for students in summer educational services; the new program can coach 70,000 students.

“To me it sounds like a sneaky way to have summer school,” said Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway, of the focus on technology. He meant it as a compliment.

Research shows that students, in particular low-income students, lose ground academically during the summer. Gary Huggins, chief executive officer with the National Summer Learning Association, said students lose on average about two months of math skills during the summer. In reading, students from middle-class families actually improve. But low-income students typically fall even more behind in reading skills - more than two months on average, Huggins said.

Huggins commended the Miami-Dade district for finding an innovative way to reach more students during the summer, especially in tight budget times, and for moving away from the stereotype that summer school is a punishment.

“It’s encouraging that there is a clear recognition that addressing summer learning is important to their academic bottom line,” he said. “It’s important that they’re not just focused on remediation, but a get-ahead piece.”

Huggins said families can do simple things to keep their children engaged. Some tips:

•  Visit libraries, parks, museums and other community spots.

•  Have your children read and ask them about what they read.

• If on vacation, ask your children about what they see and experience.

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