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How Gainesville school system is getting kids back on track after pandemic learning loss
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Centennial Arts Academy students take part in a Drumfit class Monday, June 14, 2021, as part of the Gainesville City Schools STAR summer program to help mitigate learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. - photo by Scott Rogers

Students who may have fallen behind in the last year during the pandemic are getting some extra help this summer with a program in Gainesville City Schools.

The four-week Summer Tutoring Acceleration & Remediation was implemented June 1 and provides instruction with more flexibility.

“There was a need for us to try to fill some gaps that were created due to online instruction,” said Lee Rivera, the district’s intervention coordinator who is also overseeing Gainesville elementary schools’ STAR programming. 

Class sizes are smaller than traditional classes, and teachers are able to hone in on students’ needs, Rivera said. The program is light on assessments, instead focusing on instruction and a more individualized approach. For elementary classes, the program runs 8-11 a.m. Monday through Thursday. 

One challenge for the program was simply getting the word out, Rivera said, so they partnered with the Gainesville Housing Authority, which helped them get information to families. 

Each elementary school in the district gets to tailor its instruction to students’ needs, but all elementary schools are doing Drumfit classes, which are new to Gainesville this summer. Drumfit is an exercise-based learning program where students do different exercises using a yoga ball and drumsticks.

Students set up in a gymnasium and are led through their exercises and rhythms by instructional videos, but after they’re done drumming on and bouncing their yoga balls, they also set aside time to meditate and reflect. Activities like these are designed to help students mentally, socially and with their spatial awareness, said Emily Coburn, a teacher at Centennial Arts Academy. 

Students were recommended for the STAR program based on reading and math assessments to determine if they needed extra help. Rivera said they anticipated about 850 students this summer and have about 750 enrolled. In recent years, Gainesville elementary schools have not had any summer classes like STAR, she said. 

The biggest change for teachers is getting more time for hands-on projects with students. Lindsey Guest teaches second grade during the normal school year, and she said she’s enjoyed leading activities for STAR so far this month. 

“We’re really supposed to focus on making it a fun learning experience,” Guest said. “I love the summer camp (STAR) because we really get to do our own thing and have a lot of freedom for how we want to teach the content. … The kids have really been receptive.”

She leads science and arts activities for STAR and has been able to try out projects that she didn’t have time for during the school year. She has students for 45 minute blocks, which is longer than their science periods during the school year, Guest said. So, she is able to do projects in one session that she would have had to split up into multiple days. 

“This is what I want learning to be all the time,” she said. 

STAR programs for Gainesville Middle School and Gainesville High School are similar in structure with shorter days and smaller class sizes than their typical school year.

The middle school program is structured to help students specifically with math and reading skills, so two teachers rotate to teach classes for each subject.

“Our year has been untraditional, so it’s been great seeing students be very positive,” said Hannah Reaume, the learning coordinator for Gainesville Middle School. 

Reaume said they also have a media specialist who designs lesson plans involving technology in their media center that integrates multiple subject areas such as reading and social studies. The middle school program is similarly lighter on assessments and more focused on instruction.

“We’re helping them fill in any gaps and be prepared for next year to continue that growth,” Reaume said. 

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