ALCOA, Tenn. — Across Tennessee this year, summer does not means school is out.
Lawmakers mandated every school district offer a learning loss summer program for elementary and middle school students who tested below grade level, though many districts have expanded availability to all students.
"For us, we just open our doors and want all who want to come to come and sign up," Alcoa City Schools director Rebecca Stone said. "It definitely will not hurt."
She said districts are required to provide meals and transportation for students in the four to six week program, which is offered free to families.
"So especially for those students who are going to be in some sort of childcare anyway, this is a great alternative," she said.
Every district will conduct the program differently and all are required to prioritize students based on academic need, Stone said. She encouraged all parents to take advantage of the program—especially if their child found learning challenging in the throes of a pandemic.
"Most parents can see 'ehh I don’t think my child just got it as much as they normally do,'" she said in that case "I definitely think you sign them up and let them come. It’s not going to hurt. It’s only going to help."
But some education leaders worry the children who may benefit the most, may not sign up for the program.
"There is a concern that parents might not take advantage of this," Bart McFadden, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley, said.
"These programs that are being offered this summer are important for the future of kids to make up what they've lost over the last 12 months and maybe what wasn't even in place before then," he said.
McFadden pointed to state data indicating children from lower income families are more likely to fall behind academically. Nearly three-quarters of fourth graders in the bottom quartile of students on a national test came from low income households, the state said.
"It’s not just going to happen in a six-week program in the summer. The learning loss issue is not COVID-generated. COVID has highlighted it. But it’s going to take many years of very intentional work," McFadden said.
Knox County Schools announced it had sent emails to 76 percent of families with students in kindergarten through seventh-grade, notifying them they qualify for the summer program. Enrollment links will be sent on Monday.