From Boundary Waters trips to a class on firefighting to special camps, schools, colleges and other organizations across Minnesota will offer a vast array of summer learning opportunities for preschool through high school students and adults. While many families already have signed up with local chartered or district public schools programs, some may want to consider camps, both in person and online.

Once, many years ago, I helped lead a summer trip to the Boundary Waters with a group of urban youngsters. They were astonished, amazed and a bit intimidated (we didn’t see wolves or a bear, but knew they were there). This summer, the Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids will offer two trips to that area. I think that’s great.

Here are just a few examples of what other educators have planned: Anoka-Hennepin Schools are offering an elective class on firefighting and another on auto-mechanics to students learning English. Monticello Public School District is offering reading tutoring and a new “Summer Adventure” hands-on program for middle school students. Forest Lake Area Schools has added four days to its regular summer school program and has contracted with local mental health groups to offer support for students seeking it. Little Falls Community Schools is offering credit recovery at the high school and its alternative school. Caledonia Area Public Schools are offering summer programs to all its elementary students for the first time.

Jim Skelly, communication and public relations director for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, told me that their summer program will feature, among other things:

— More students at more sites: Summer school participation is up considerably this summer from past years at the secondary level. In past years, Anoka-Hennepin would welcome 150-200 secondary students at one location for summer school. In the summer of 2021, the district expects 3,000 secondary students with programs being run at every high school site. The majority of students are pursuing credit recovery.

— Freedom School for American Indian Students: A six-week program for American Indian students in grades K-5. The program focuses on reading and limiting learning loss over the summer months. This is a partnership with The Children’s Defense Fund.

— Enhanced options for High School EL students: High school summer programming will focus on supporting English language development and provide additional time to earn high school graduation credits. This is a four-week program that offers lunch and field trips. Note: Many EL students experience a longer high school timeline with their peers. This program is geared to assist EL students so they can graduate in four years with classmates.

— Middle School EL builds the basics: Students who qualify for EL services will participate in a three-period summer school program starting in August. Students will enjoy a literacy course or English language development course, a co-taught math course, and electives such as auto electronics, dance, or firefighting.

Peter Wieczorek, director of Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids, explained: “Northwest Passage High School will be partnering with Big City Mountaineering to offer two Boundary Waters Canoe Area trips. The focus of the expeditions will be on group dynamics and social skills as well as natural history and environmental education. We will be focusing more on the preservation of wilderness areas and current environmental issues more than biology, but we will be studying the Northern Shield ecosystem.”

Some of the most intriguing opportunities are being offered via the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. They’ve awarded grants to groups around the state offering summer camps for youngsters grades 3-11, focusing on science, world languages, math, financial literacy/entrepreneurship and other fields. Meghan Flores, manager of state financial aid programs at MOHE, told me that a limited number of stipends are available that will allow students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch to pay for these camps – as of late May, more than 200 stipends were available. (More information about these camps is available here: t.ly/HDV9.)

Lain DeSalvo, competitive grants administrator at MOHE, explained that her agency also is using federal funds to support summer programs that help students prepare for college. (Information is found here: t.ly/WjAk.)

Families, students and educators trying to plan have faced enormous challenges over the last year due to the pandemic and responses to it. In response, on May 26, Bobbie Burnham, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education, told me that the agency recommends that “families reach out to local public schools and get children engaged this summer, regardless of age. (The summer programs offered) are a comprehensive effort to provide hands on learning and support the whole child.”

The next day, EdAllies, a statewide advocacy group, hosted a press conference (online at https://www.facebook.com/edalliesmn) strongly encouraging MDE and local public schools to increase involvement of families and students in planning how millions of additional dollars will be spent to help more students succeed. EdAllies Mn and their colleagues focused especially on the importance of including Black, Indigenous, and people of color – who often are left out. They cited an example of a statewide meeting on serving students with special needs, where only one of 24 people was indigenous or a person of color.

Millions of dollars are providing a vast array of summer opportunities. There are many examples of educator creativity and community partnerships. I hope MDE will gather examples to help families, students and educators plan for an even better 2021-22 school year and 2022 summer. I also hope educators will listen and act on recommendations to work with and learn from families and students. — Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @joenathan9249 on Twitter.

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