The students in Autumn Stinnett’s summer school class of rising second-graders keep their masks on as they sit at spaced-out desks with plastic barriers surrounding them in Room 10 of Henrico County’s Skipwith Elementary School.
As Stinnett does reading exercises with a group of students at a crescent-shaped table in the front of the room, the remaining students are tasked with writing a sentence about a friend.
Down the hall, Kathryn Phillips leads a group of rising fourth-graders with nametag lanyards around their necks, masks on their faces and laptops in hand. For many students, summer school is their first time in a classroom in more than a year.
School divisions in the Richmond area and across the country are seeing a spike in summer school attendance compared with the summer before the pandemic transformed a year of public education. And to persuade more teachers to set aside part of their vacation after an exhausting school year, some divisions are using federal CARES Act money to boost their pay to $40 or $50 an hour.
Adria Hoffman, an education instructor and researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University, said data on the impact of extended online instruction remains preliminary, making it difficult to gauge the full extent of learning loss over the past year. She also said she’s been approached by principals from several school divisions who have asked her whether she knew of any graduate students who were able to teach summer school due to staffing shortages.
Both Richmond and Chesterfield schools are paying teachers $40 per hour this summer. According to Sidney Gunter, academic response to intervention coordinator for RPS, the school system of about 28,000 invited about 4,000 students to attend its summer school program, and about 800 students are on the waiting list. She said around 3,500 students are currently enrolled.
Gunter attributes the influx of students to the past year of online learning and the desire of parents to get their kids back to in-person instruction as soon as possible because they fell behind during virtual learning.
She said RPS is using a combination of funding, including federal CARES grants, to increase the pay rate for educators, which was $22.18 for the summer of 2019.
“We wanted to make sure we were able to bring back our best and our brightest teachers for summer school, because we knew this was going to be a challenging effort,” Gunter said. “You know, teachers haven’t been in schools in a year and a half either. We wanted people who really were excited to come back to work with the students in person. And we know we have to incentivize our teachers for being willing to come back in person.
“There’s still so many uncertainties with COVID and stuff, so we wanted to make sure we recognize that we appreciated their effort.”
Similarly, in Chesterfield, which has about 60,000 students, Director of High School Leadership Belinda Merriman said the hourly pay rate for summer school teachers was increased in recognition of the hardships faced during the thick of the pandemic. The school system also is paying for the increase with some federal funding. Teachers leading virtual courses or middle and high school students receive $110 per student instead of an hourly rate.
The school system saw the number of summer students double from 4,901 in 2019 to 10,138 in 2021. Merriman attributes this to increased accessibility all around, including the option for students to choose either in-person or virtual summer school. She also believes parents are eager for their children to return to in-person instruction.
Petersburg is paying teachers $50 an hour to educate approximately 700 summer school students.
According to Petersburg Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin, the city School Board originally considered paying $30 per hour, but additional federal funding allowed the school system to increase the hourly rate to $50. She said the system received a lot of feedback from parents saying they were interested in summer school for their children. The school system of about 4,000 students has both in-person and virtual options for students.
“So, with that increase, I think that helped us get more people involved,” Pitre-Martin said.
Hanover County’s summer school enrollment is about 1,400 students this year, up from about 1,100 in 2019, an increase mostly attributable to a new two-week middle school program. According to school officials, teachers are being paid $35 per hour to teach summer school, which is a $9.97 increase from 2019. They also attributed the increase to a desire to compensate teachers after the difficult school year. Like others, Hanover schools, home to about 16,500 students, will be using additional federal funding for the pay increases.
The Henrico school system increased its hourly pay rate for summer school teachers from $25.59 in 2019 to $27.36 in 2021. It’s also offering bonuses of $50 to $100 a week for teachers who don’t miss more than one day of instruction during the summer. Its summer academy offers in-person and virtual options for the school system’s approximately 50,000 students, and enrollment rose to 9,349 this year compared with 7,218 in 2019. The division has hired approximately 613 teachers for this summer, compared with 462 in 2019.
Skipwith’s Stinnett, a four-year teacher with the school system, said she has no ill feelings regarding her pay rate compared with what nearby school divisions are paying. She also appreciates the bonus, which could add up to $200 to $600 for teachers over the course of the summer, depending on how long the summer school is for their specific session. Some last two weeks and others six, depending on grade level.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s just more of an incentive to have teachers come in for summer school and teach.”