Another COVID side effect: Many kids head to summer school

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Aja Purnell-Mitchell, second from left, sits with her three children, Cartier, 14, left; Kyra, 15, and Kyla, 13, at a local food hub in Durham, N.C., on Friday, May 28, 2021, where they often help their mother. "Getting them back into it, helping them socialize back with their friends, maybe meet some new people, and, of course, pick up the things that they lacked on Zoom, Purnell-Mitchell said, ticking off her hopes for the summer school session ahead, which will be the first time her children have been in the classroom since the coronavirus outbreak took hold in the spring of 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

With her three teenagers vaccinated against COVID-19, Aja Purnell-Mitchell left it up to them to decide whether to go back to school during summer break.

The decision was unanimous: summer school.

"Getting them back into it, helping them socialize back with their friends, maybe meet some new people, and, of course, pick up the things that they lacked on Zoom,” the Durham County, North Carolina, mother said, ticking off her hopes for the session ahead, which will be the first time her children have been in the classroom since the outbreak took hold in the spring of 2020.

Across the U.S., more children than ever before could be in classrooms for summer school this year to make up for lost learning during the outbreak, which caused monumental disruptions in education. School districts nationwide are expanding their summer programs and offering bonuses to get teachers to take part.

Under the most recent federal pandemic relief package, the Biden administration is requiring states to devote some of the billions of dollars to summer programs.

The U.S. Education Department said it is too early to know how many students will sign up. But the number is all but certain to exceed the estimated 3.3 million who went to mandatory or optional summer school in 2019, before the pandemic.

In Montgomery, Alabama, for example, more than 12,000 of the school system's 28,000 students signed up before the June 1 deadline. Typically about 2,500 go to summer school. Philadelphia had enrolled 14,700 by Friday and was expecting more for the mostly in-person programs, up from the 9,300 students in last summer’s all-virtual sessions.

“It’s an understatement to say the needs are greater this year,” said Kalman Hettleman, an education policy analyst in Maryland.