By Kati Weis

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Summer school has notoriously been the last thing students want to do during the summer months, but this year Boulder school officials saw record participation in the program, which came to a close this week.

(credit: CBS)

After a year of students away from a school building, learning at home virtually, Boulder school officials say it’s more important than ever for students to be involved in the summer school program.

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Knowing how critical the summer school program is this year, the Boulder Valley School District also changed up its summer program. It was longer than ever before, and it focused more on literacy and math, whereas it used to focus more on the sciences.

“We know that as students may have finished last year with unfinished learning, we know that both the areas of literacy and math are the gateway, or the foundational concepts, for students to be able to access all core content areas,” said BVSD Assistant Superintendent Robbyn Fernandez. “So, we wanted to really target our instruction on each student’s individual unfinished learning so that we were able to provide them the most instruction, and the most relevant instruction for them, over the course of the summer, so that they would be in the best position to start the year in a strong way.”

The half-day program was also cost-free for the first time, and it provided free breakfast, lunch, and afternoon childcare services, made possible by a combination of general district money and education stabilization funds – or ESSER funds – allocated in the CARES Act.

“We know that our students need our support both academic support and social-emotional learning support, and so we wanted to provide as broad access as we could, in order to help finish unfinished learning that students ended the school year with,” Fernandez said.

(credit: CBS)

This summer, Boulder saw 874 elementary students participating in summer school, up from 732 in 2019 and only 674 in 2018.

In total, Boulder saw 1,201 students total participating in summer school, up from 1,048 students in 2019.

That’s not the only district that saw increased interest.

The Cherry Creek School District’s participation numbers exploded this summer.

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It saw 2,184 total summer school participants up from only 588 in 2019, according to school officials. Part of what made this year more popular was the addition of an online program, which saw 1,642 online students this summer.

As CBS4 Investigates previously reported, CCSD saw more failing grades during fall 2020, than it did in pre-pandemic fall 2019. Read more about the learning loss some students in the metro area experienced.

Unlike BVSD and CCSD, in Denver Public Schools, there was a decrease in popularity for the summer programs. DPS’ Summer Academy for elementary students saw only about 1,200 students enrolled, whereas in 2019, about 3,000 students signed up.

However, DPS officials said more students who signed up in 2021 actually completed the Summer Academy program. In years before the pandemic, only half of enrolled students would complete it, officials tell CBS4.

Its high school program, called Regional Summer School, used to see more than 2,500 students before COVID-19, and this summer it saw a little more 1,500, according to DPS officials.

(credit: CBS)

Back in Boulder, first grade teacher Kristi Cutter says she’s not surprised to see the increased interest in her district.

“Parents were really looking for extra support for their kids, because being a parent is a lot different than being an educator, and I think a lot of us discovered that during the past 15 months over the pandemic,” Cutter said.

Like her students, she’s also thrilled to be back in the classroom at Crest View Elementary School, no matter the time of year.

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“My job is to be in classrooms with kids, and so much of that comes from observing them, how they work independently, how they work with their peers, how they handle conflicts, how they problem solve, and unfortunately that was not something a virtual classroom was able to give me,” Cutter said. “I tried my hardest, but being back… just having them in here and knowing they were smiling underneath their masks, and learning, it makes all the difference in the world.”

Kati Weis