Minnesota Offering array of Summer Programs

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers.  The version below includes material that appeared in several of these columns, including Star News (Elk River), Morrison County Record (Little Falls Area), Sun This Week (southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St Paul and Union Eagle (Milaca/Princeton)

Minnesota offering array of summer programs

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 teens. 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.

Photo from Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Paul Vincent

Stephen Jones, Little Falls Community Schools’ superintendent, told me that the district will offer a six-week preschool program, along with elementary school programs in June, July and August at various times for various grade levels. The district also will offer summer special education programing in July and August. There also will be middle school enrichment and remediation in June and August. Finally, there will be credit recovery programs at the high school and alternative school.

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.  Caledonia Area Public Schools are offering summer programs to all its elementary students for the first time.

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 those in 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.

Lain DeSalvo, competitive grants administrator at MOHE, explained that the agency also is using federal funds to support summer programs that help students prepare for college. Information is found here.

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 here)  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. Columns reflect the opinion of the author