GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Wednesday is the last day of school for Grand Rapids Public Schools, the largest school district in West Michigan. As thousands of students look ahead to summer vacation, many parents have bigger concerns on their minds.
The past two school years have been anything but normal, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That has left many parents worried about the impact on students' learning and what they should be doing this summer to mitigate it.
"I'm a GRPS parent as well and I have those same concerns," said John Helmholdt, executive director of communications & external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools. "I think what parents and guardians should really be doing is exploring all the different supports and options available this summer."
Each year, educators warn parents about that summer slide, or brain drain. During the summer months, students are in danger of losing the equivalent of one to two months of reading and math skills. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded that. Grand Rapids Public Schools is among many school districts with support already in place to try and keep kids on track.
"Obviously we are offering summer school. If they have not already signed their child up that's something they should contact the school about to see if slots are still available," he said. "We have GRASP (Grand Rapids Academic Summer Program). That is something that I did, even, when I was a child, many moons ago. That's something that is easy, it's inexpensive and it's for math and English. It offers great refreshers to help stop that summer slide. And, if we look at the last two years of COVID, we know there's been an adverse impact, particularly for high poverty, high needs students."
Helmholdt says the district will also maintain its Coronavirus Resource Page on the grps.org website throughout the summer.
"There's a bunch of great online content there... I would also encourage parents to go to the Grand Rapids Public Library. There is a wealth of resources, activities, camps and opportunities. It is not just about checking out books, there's so much more that's offered by our Grand Rapids Public Library that is free, accessible and open to the public."
Helmholdt says the district is planning to be back to 100% in-person when students return for the Fall. He says the first thing educators will do is assess where students are socially, emotionally, and of course, academically.
"We're going to do that MAP Test and start there. We will set growth targets for each of the children. And, from there, the teacher will wrap around services and support, based on what that first set of data says," said Helmholdt.
"Then we will re-administer that in the Winter, so we can gauge growth and the progress that's being made. And then, we administered it again in the Spring, to see what happened throughout that year. We have to get baseline data. The reality is the data over the last year and a half or two years is just not reliable or valid, to our standards. But, you know, this is our first time living through a global pandemic."
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