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For 2nd year, federal COVID relief funding allows for expanded Unit 5 summer school

Emily Bollinger

For the second year in a row, Unit 5 expects to draw more than 1,000 students to its summer school programs in an effort to help close education gaps created by the pandemic.

Federal COVID relief money is allowing the district to triple the number of students who can attend summer school.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding assigned to pay for the district’s expanded summer school covers a specific three-year period, 2021 to 2023.

“Beyond that I’m not sure that we would be able to do” in terms of continuing such a program, Unit 5 Assistant Superintendent Michelle Lamboley told the school board Wednesday night.

Unit 5 faces a projected $26 million deficit over the next five years, and district leaders are in the early stages of researching how the community wants to respond to the deficit, including the possibility of property tax hike referendum. An outside consulting firm is working to get feedback and develop a plan over the next few months.

Pre-pandemic, Unit 5’s summer school was limited to a 350-student special education program covered by Illinois Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds.

Board members Alan Kalitsky and Amy Roser praised the Unit 5 administration for building the 2021-2023 summer school funding into its federal COVID relief proposals. As the pandemic unfolded, planning for extra summer education showed foresight, they said.

“We really appreciate the intention that our administration took to make sure this program was available to as many students as possible,” said Kalitsky.

The federally funded program covers facilities, staffing, bus transportation and meal costs for students. Most students will meet four mornings a week, from June 13 to July 14.

Students with most need selected

This year, Unit 5 expects to bring in more than 700 additional students. Lamboley said educators select participants based on an observed educational need.

“We’re looking at students who have the largest gap” compared to their peers, she said.

About 360 elementary and 100 junior high students will take part, getting extra help with math, literacy, and social-emotional learning. Nearly two dozen early learners also will receive interventions in the summer program.

At the high school level, summer school students can attend June morning and afternoon sessions to use online classes as a way to recover credits, due to failing grades. Last summer, about 250 teens took part, but the number for this year won’t be finalized for a few weeks.

Lamboley said the district still is hiring staff for all of its summer school program.

In total, Unit 5 is receiving about $14 million in ESSER funding that has covered a variety of COVID-related expenses, including summer school and upgrading air quality in facilities.

Newcomer program helps teen immigrants

In addition to the other summer school offerings, a $20,000 bilingual education award to Unit 5 means the launch of a program to help Unit 5 middle and high schoolers new to the country, and new to English.

School board members asked why the program was limited to sixth grade and above.

Lamboley explained that while the district has an extensive bilingual program in its elementary schools, nothing comparable is available for the older students.

This new grant will be used for a three-week intensive summer program known as the Newcomer Summer Enrichment Program, and focuses on basic English, math, reading and writing. About 15 students will take part, meeting at Kingsley Junior High School during other summer school programs there.

This service is important to help the adolescents get up to speed, and ready for the rigors of high school, said Lamboley.

“It also will help them — as newcomers — to feel a part of the school community, and to help just build an environment for them,” before the fall semester begins.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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