JCPS Backpack league 1

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined traditional summer programming at school districts throughout the country last year, Jefferson County Public Schools is ready to welcome back thousands of students for more normal, in-person summer learning experiences.

If how quickly seats filled up is any indication, students and their families are just as eager for the district’s array of in-person summer camps.

“It’s always fast, but this year, it was real quick,” said John Marshall, chief equity officer at JCPS.

The Diversity, Equity and Poverty Department’s literacy and numeracy camps, some of which begin Monday, expanded capacity from 500 students to 650 students this year.

“We actually closed it three days earlier than our anticipated target date because we were already at capacity,” Maria Carrico, the district’s extended learning coordinator and Title I specialist, said of the more than 6,000 openings in the Summer Backpack League that kicks off June 21.

JCPS summer programming went online last year as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened across Kentucky, scuttling plans to expand offerings like the Summer Backpack League.

About 1,500 students participated in the program’s first year in 2019, and this year’s iteration will feature about 100 sites with help from community partners, Carrico said.

“This program is not just focused on academics,” she said. “... I’m encouraged that we will see results when we get back to school and we do assessments.”

The district is still finalizing the series of experiences offered during the Summer Backpack League, which runs from June 21 through July 30. Mark Hebert, communications manager for JCPS, said the district expects to provide more than 250 adventures for students entering third through 12th grades.

The Summer Backpack League and the district’s literacy and numeracy camps give students opportunities to hone their reading and math skills in lessons that incorporate other interests like karate, swimming, chess, robotics and photography.

“Yes, we’re going to have kids that learn how to swim. Yes, we’re going to have kids that do yoga. But what if we just have a child that says, ‘I read this book and like this activity. I’m going to put it together and keep doing it,’” Marshall said. “That’s the quintessential part of education to me.”

For those who missed out on registering for the district’s in-person summer learning camps, JCPS is also offering its Online Summer League for a second year and hopes to build on the success of last year’s program.

Unlike the district’s in-person options, there are no capacity limits for the virtual camp.

More than 5,000 students participated in the online camp last year, said Raymond Yasic, project manager for the Online Summer League and a Title IV supervisor.

“They engaged in all these things that they loved and just got really into it, and it blew teachers away, blew parents away and blew me away to see kind of like not only how much they did but the quality,” Yasic said.

The Online Summer League will run simultaneously with the Summer Backpack League, and the experiences are currently in the design phase, he said. Some learning experiences for the virtual camp include lessons on the poetry of hip hop and planning a space mission to Mars, he said.

Students will also be able to accumulate points based on completed projects, though Yasic said rewards are still being finalized.

Summer learning is one element of Superintendent Marty Pollio’s plan to help students who struggled academically during the COVID-19 pandemic and the district’s digital learning program. He has said he hopes to offer additional summer academic programs for some 30,000 students, about a third of the district’s enrollment, starting in 2022.

District leaders in charge of this summer’s offerings believe JCPS can expand its summer programming next year.

Marshall believes federal stimulus money will help JCPS rapidly grow its summer learning opportunities.

“I don't think that'll be a problem,” he said. “We actually do, and I don’t say this lightly: Have a community that's willing.”

“Whatever the number is, we’ll be able to get it done,” Marshall said.

Planning and analyzing feedback and data on student outcomes, Carrico said, will be key with such an ambitious expansion.

“I don't know about next summer, but hopefully we’ll get there very, very soon,” she said.

Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.