Knox County Schools offers summer learning camps for qualifying students


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools has announced it will be offering new learning camps this summer and parents are weighing in on the topic.

Some Knox County parents like the idea of summer classes to help overcome challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, while others feel their kids should be able to enjoy their entire summer break.

Back in January, the “Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act” passed in the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill requires schools to implement a program of after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps to remediate student learning loss.

On March 8, Knox County Schools sent an email to thousands of Kindergarten through 7th grade parents letting them know that their student was eligible for the summer learning camps.

It was an invitation meant to give parents the option to choose whether or not they wanted their students to participate. But after a school year unlike any other, parents have conflicting views about whether or not they want to enroll their kids.

Knox County Parent Gretchen Ely is ready for this school year to end. When she got an email from KCS offering more class time for her kids, she wasn’t a fan of the idea.

“We are really struggling just to get through the school year. Really what I would like to have had is some kind of empathy and an understanding that people, students parents and teachers really need a break,” Ely said.

The original law states that students who qualify are those who have not yet met the “on track” or “mastered” components of the third grade English Language Arts portion of the TCAP exam. KCS asked the state if they could cast a wider net to include more students, which is why so many parents received the email.

Elizabeth Saunders saw this as a chance for her first grader to play catch up

“My kid is drastically below grade level and last summer he had tutoring all summer long and he was still drastically below grade level so I see it as an opportunity to hopefully, even if it’s only small gains, any gain I accept,” Saunders said.

Assistant Superintendent Jon Rysewyk says the goal of the camps will help to catch learning loss at an early stage.

“It is optional. It’s a family choice as far as what they feel like they need to do. What we know especially in those early grades is that those gaps can grow exponentially and it’s kind of compounded over time,” Rysewyk said.

Thousands of early grade KCS students showed gaps in learning. There are just under 35,000 Kindergarten though 7th graders in the district, just under 27,000 were deemed eligible for the summer program. That’s 76.4 percent of K-7 students.

“I think a lot of people thought it probably wasn’t going to apply to their student. And again because we cast that wider net, it doesn’t mean that your student is grade levels behind. It just means that there are some gaps that we may be able to address a few weeks in the summer,” Rysewyk said.

After a tumultuous school year, a few weeks of learning this summer is a few weeks more than some parents think their kids can handle.

“We’ve got to be really concerned about their mental health and what can they take. How much they can take and how much can they stand and how do we balance that with any learning loss or perceived learning loss,” Ely said.

For others, its a tool they feel they can use to their advantage.

“I think it’s going to be a huge benefit for my son and any other family who chooses to opt in,” Saunders said.

While the primary focus during these camps will be STEAM learning, there will also be one hour of play each day. Enrollment starts Monday, March 22 and lasts through April 20. The camps start June 1 and will last until June 28.

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