The morning of March 13, I remember making the agonizing decision to close the network of schools I lead in New York City for what I hoped would be a two-week period to wait out the worst of the pandemic.
As we know now, those two weeks out of school have turned into a painful year.
Before the pandemic, I used to worry how a single snow day would impact students’ ability to meet educational imperatives, like learning to read by third grade or solve algebraic equations by eighth. Helping students stay on track after being separated from the classroom for a year, in comparison, seems nearly impossible.
But we owe it to our kids to do everything within our power to address this once-in-a-generation crisis.
What our nation’s students urgently need, and what the Biden administration and incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona must deliver on, is a national summer school program for elementary and middle school-aged kids where educators can heal the pain and anxiety students have experienced through the pandemic while remediating the skills they’ve lost.
This may seem like a far-fetched proposal, but if executed carefully, it may help to alleviate many of our country’s current economic and social woes. And support for summer school is already growing among leading education advocates and elected officials.
Students are slipping behind
Consider what we know now. Our most precious resource, our young children, are slipping behind after missing months of school. Nationally, attendance is down remotely and in-person, and evidence of learning loss is mounting.
We also know our kids desperately need opportunities to be together again and practice social and emotional skills that engage the mind and the body. And we know young people in college and recent graduates are struggling to find work.
A national summer school program, one that puts college students and recent graduates to work and helps students from every walk of life to learn and heal, can put our country on the path to long-term recovery.
Sound investment in our future
Summer school is a critical government investment in our future — and it will cost a fraction of what Congress has allocated for pandemic relief. To serve over 14 million students and put 50,000 teachers and 100,000 college and graduate counselors to work, it’s estimated that the summer program would cost roughly 0.7% of the last stimulus package.
As all 50 states have begun vaccinating their most at-risk residents, now is the time for the federal government, districts and schools to start planning and revamping what school will look like when teachers and students can come in free of many of the worries that consume our days now.
The clock is already ticking to get this right.
While our schools have done a heroic job of making remote education as impactful as possible, the need for peer interactions and social connections have remained unfulfilled.
This is the Biden administration’s one opportunity to make up for lost time and deliver on the promises we make to invest in children as our first priority. Kids have already sacrificed so much over the past year. Let’s not add to the pain of the pandemic by having them sit at home for another summer wondering when adults will finally invest in their future.
Jim Manly is superintendent of KIPP NYC, a network of 15 public charter schools in New York City.