KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This summer all school districts in the state are required to offer in-person summer learning programs. The requirement comes after a year unlike any other, with continued virtual learning new challenges arising due to the pandemic.
In Knox County, school officials said 26,714 students were eligible to participate. However, just under 6,000 students actually signed up for the program.
The county offered two kinds of summer learning programs. Its four-week camp has 1,629 participants, while the six-week camp has 4,201.
Knox County educator Tanya Coats said she sees the positives in the programs, but she also said she understands why so many of Knox County's eligible students are not attending them. She said they could be taking a much-needed mental health break.
The curriculum focuses on reading and math. Depending on the district, STEM camps are also being offered.
State Representative Gloria Johnson said she was not a fan of the plan from the start.
"How do you know the kids who need it most are going to be there?" she said.
She was surprised by Knox County's numbers.
"I did guess that it would be a little more than regular summer school."
But as a former summer school teacher herself, Johnson said smaller class sizes in the fall and more counselors and social workers for students would be more beneficial than summer programs.
"That's how we're going to change how our kids are doing and how we're going to raise those scores," she said.
In Anderson County, more than 500 elementary school students are signed up for a summer learning program, which means they may benefit from low student-to-teacher ratios.
"We have so many educators that have lined up to teach," said Lyndsay Foust, whose goal is to make sure students stay engaged. "I hope our students feel more confident when they get back in August."
She said that the district will have different small groups and intervention times. She also said the district will offer different opportunities for students to learn at their levels.
But on the top of her list — making sure they have fun too.
Students who are attending in-person summer learning camps are not required to wear masks.
The Knox County School Board voted to end the mask requirements for students and staff in May.
Starting June 12, Knoxville Police uniformed officers will not be present in schools. But will still respond to emergencies.
The first day of school for students this fall is August 9.
Knox County is spending some extra money to offer bridge programs that may help students successfully transfer to the next grade level.
They will help both rising 6th and 9th graders.