By TALIA WIENER
This summer, the Montclair school district will offer a variety of programs aimed at helping students overcome academic challenges created during more than a year of remote learning.
Township schools will “have something for everyone,” Kalisha Morgan, the district’s assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction, said at an April 19 school board meeting. The summer programming will be split into two categories — targeted support and academic enrichment — with both options available for students of all grade levels.
Targeted support programs for elementary and middle schools will feature English language arts and math activities to help review major content standards and skills needed for the following school year. Montclair High School’s program is based on identified need for credit recovery. Families will be notified by the district if a child is recommended for a targeted support program.
The academic enrichment programs include summer hikes for elementary school students, an accelerated Algebra B course for rising ninth graders and a “Summer Experience” at each middle school with various course options. MHS will have an enrichment program with courses that focus on a variety of subject areas, including STEM, advanced placement preparation and world languages.
“Summer learning 2021 will be a way for us to bridge the gap for students who may have lost over this year as well as provide extracurricular activities for kids who are on target,” Morgan said.
Registration forms will be sent to families and will note if their children are recommended for targeted support and credit recovery programs, according to the district website, at montclair.k12.nj.us. A breakdown of available programs and schedules can be found by selecting “Departments,” then “Equity, Curriculum & Instruction” and “Summer Programs.”
IMANI, a community-based nonprofit that aims to close achievement gaps, is offering courses for rising sixth and ninth graders. Registration forms are on the district website as well. The sixth grade program is free, and the ninth grade program costs $50.
Community groups also plan to provide summer programs for students in the area, offering opportunities for academic support and recreational activities.
The Montclair Community Enrichment Center at the Wally Choice Center, created by a partnership between the township and the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp., has been working with 50 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, helping with remote work during the school year. The center is open to students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches and is free.
Once the school year ends, the program’s organizers hope to continue offering academic support for students, MNDC Executive Director Al Pelham said. Pelham said he has spoken with Superintendent Jonathan Ponds about a collaboration this summer, but nothing has been made official yet.
“From a mental standpoint, the kids really need to be among their peers and see other kids instead of being stuck in the house,” said Pelham, who is also president of the Montclair branch of the NAACP.
The Montclair YMCA, which has also been offering in-person programs to assist students with remote learning during the school year, will pivot to its traditional camp programs this summer. The Y will offer three camp options this year instead of the usual 14, according to Lisa Aulisi, YMCA vice president of youth development.
“We are trying to get back to some type of normalcy for families and children,” Aulisi said.
Montclair students were away from in-person classes for more than a year, starting with the March 2020 lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic. Elementary school students returned for a hybrid schedule in April, and middle schoolers followed this month; high school freshmen were slated to return this week. In a May 7 community message, Ponds said the district’s goal is to have all grades “full time, five days a week when schools open in September” — something Gov. Phil Murphy has said will be required for all school districts, but with allowances made for students or staff with particular health concerns.
But Aulisi said she has noticed some students thriving in the smaller learning environment at the YMCA, and said some parents have inquired about the Y’s remote learning program being offered in the fall. Aulisi said the Y’s plans have pivoted so many times in the past year, she is unsure what will happen in the fall. But she said she is open to parent input.
“Whatever the community needs, we’ll be there,” she said.
There could be other opportunities to address learning loss as well. Monday, Mayor Sean Spiller announced a new task force for the return to full-time learning anticipated in the fall. The group will set its own goals, but Spiller said it might consider ways the school system and township could work together on hybrid academic-recreational programs.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11, speaking at the news conference announcing the task force, said, “We know that remote learning has had significant negative impacts on students. Beyond learning loss, our children are struggling in isolation. Much more than just a place to study, school is a place to socialize, to make friends and benefit from the human connection that we all need.”
Task force chair Debra Jennings described the task force as an opportunity to look beyond “this national narrative that focuses on student deficits and learning loans, and look to address systemic deficits and inequities while building on the students’ and families’ strengths that have emerged during this difficult time.”