JCPS to launch $1M summer learning program

JCPS board member Chris Brady and JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio joined in for reading time at Wheeler Elementary. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

To further combat its achievement gap, Jefferson County Public Schools plans to invest $1 million in a summer learning initiative in 2019.

Tentatively called “Backpack League,” at least 1,500 students entering grades three through six will get an extra month with a teacher to boost their reading and math skills, district officials said Tuesday.

“This looks really cool,” outgoing board member Lisa Willner said. Calling the initiative “thrilling,” board member and teacher Ben Gies asked if he could be a teacher in the program.

JCPS will spend $1 million to run its own camps and pay for teachers to assist existing summer enrichment programs in offering “high powered learning experiences.” It’ll be free to both students and community partners bringing on a JCPS teacher.

District-sponsored camps will target students who need reading and math support. It won’t look like stereotypical summer school, as teachers will provide more interactive and exploratory exercises, according to JCPS.

“We want this to be a deeper learning opportunity that will be unique to this program,” district spokeswoman Renee Murphy said.

JCPS will identify around 5,000 students who could benefit from the program, superintendent Marty Pollio said. He hopes at least 1,500 will be able to be involved. 

Pollio previously discussed the need for extended summer learning, suggesting it could bring students up to grade level and reduce the district’s achievement gap.

Half of JCPS students are reading at grade level, according to test scores from the first few weeks of school. Around one-third of students are at grade level for math.

African-American students tend to lag behind their white peers by roughly 30 percentage points, according to recent district data. Both white and black students are growing at similar rates, meaning it will take a catalyst to close the gap, district officials said in October.

Student selection details are still being decided, Murphy said, but the district plans on inviting thousands to participate.

Summer learning opportunities could also mitigate the “summer slide,” the idea that students lose information when they are out of school during the summer.

In another recent effort to reduce the achievement gap, JCPS began using acceleration plans to provide targeted support for students who aren’t at grade level earlier this year. It also is preparing to adopt a racial equity plan.