This week the Blaine County School District will launch the most audacious summer learning program in its history. This bold initiative is directly aimed at bridging learning gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The stakes have never been higher for our county’s kids. And the district and its partners in the community have responded!

Even during ordinary years, the “summer slide” is a well-documented phenomenon when children, especially those already struggling to keep up, suffer disproportionate learning loss over the summer months. And this last school year has been far from ordinary. Though some spring test scores were encouraging as more kids returned to class full time, there is still much work to be done to help our kids both academically and social-emotionally.

To address this challenge, the district, in collaboration with several community partners, has stepped up to provide summer enrichment opportunities to over 400 kids during the next eight weeks. Eleven summer programs have been created to engage students from pre-K to high school. Over 40 School District personnel will work with nonprofit partners to deliver a unique summer experience to students who need it most.

The goal is to provide focused, intentional instruction based on student data and academic priority standards, with some summer camp fun mixed in.

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Angie Martinez, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, said it has “paid special attention to the need for a rigorous academic program, but also one that is enticing and engaging and capitalizes on hands-on, project-based and community-connected lessons.” Community partners such as the Environmental Resource Center, the I Have a Dream Foundation, the Lee Pesky Learning Center and the Wood River Community YMCA will provide critical support.

One excellent example of this powerful community collaboration is the SummerBridge program, which will serve over 160 K-4 students. Initially, the YMCA presented the program’s conceptual design. Next the BCSD worked with the YMCA on selecting compelling academic curricula, and 10 certified BCSD teachers were hired as instructional coaches. School District staff then identified the children who would benefit the most and helped facilitate the invitation process.

The BCSD will host the program at Alturas Elementary School and will provide food service. It then solved the complicated transportation logistics to get kids to the program from everywhere in the county, from north Ketchum to Carey, and will provide all the transportation for field trips.

To help staff the program, the YMCA partnered with the College of Idaho, which will bring 18 student-teachers and two faculty members to the valley. The Community School solved the critical housing need for the incoming staff by opening its student dorms. In addition, two Teach for America staff members were added to the instructional team. And finally, the Lee Pesky Learning Center joined to provide additional educational support.

SummerBridge is just one of the 11 programs being offered through the BCSD this summer, and it is a shining example of the power of the commitment, coordination and collaboration that will be required as we address the critical needs of our county’s children, especially as they relate to the learning gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dan Turner is Blaine County School District trustee for Zone 4.

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