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With the school year coming to a close in just a few months, Shacora Simmons continues to fret over what’s next for her twin first graders, one of whom has struggled to fully grasp the concept of letters and basic words throughout the virtual learning experience.

Simmons, a mother of four D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) students, said her son’s ordeal has frustrated her to the point she has not only considered participation in the school’s parent-teacher organization next year but enrolling her twins in a DCPS summer enrichment program.

“I don’t have the tools. My twins need to be in front of people who are trained to teach,” said Simmons, a Ward 8 resident. “I’ve been wanting them to interact with other children and just get out of the house. They are behind a grade level. My hope is that they would be [involved in] in-person learning and paired with teachers who actually care.”

Shacora Simmons (Courtesy photo)

Earlier this month, DCPS officials announced the launch of expanded summer enrichment programs intended to support students in every grade level. The program, scheduled to start in early July and end in early August, builds upon the public school system’s past offerings that have been geared toward students in need of enrichment or credit recovery.

Registration recently opened for these virtual and in-person learning opportunities, which will be available to 7,000 young people.

Activities for pre-kindergarteners and first graders center on acclimating their families to the school environment and to help youngsters develop socio-emotional skills in a school setting. Older elementary students will receive reading enrichment while courses for middle and high school students will focus on algebra and other courses for which they can obtain credit toward high school graduation.

For those frustrated with the hurdles of virtual learning, the launch of the expanded summer programs represents a return to normalcy. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser iterated this point in her assurance to community members that schools would most likely return to a five-day-a-week in-person learning schedule during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Months earlier, DCPS teachers returned to the classroom amid a contentious battle between the central office and the Washington Teachers’ Union about safety protocols. An all-teachers survey conducted by the D.C. State Board of Education would later highlight teachers’ other pandemic-related concerns including quality of technology, students’ mental wellness and pressures placed upon instructors to cover content under unprecedented circumstances.

Shanelle Wilson, a mother of five DCPS students, said her high school-aged daughter felt so compelled to succeed during the pandemic that her grades dropped and she suffered bouts of depression. Wilson said her other children similarly did not respond well to long hours behind the computer and completing homework.

It’s for that reason Wilson said she’s opting out of enrolling her children in summer school, though she does envision them getting the help they need outside of the confines of the classroom over the next few months.

“This year has caused a lot of mental health issues to arise, so we’ve been trying to get on top of that and [get back] to some normalcy,” said Wilson, a Northwest resident. “I want to make sure they have a solid foundation and can grasp the concepts that are needed for what’s to come.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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