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Students attend summer session classes at Sugg-Bundy Elementary School in Farmville. Nearly 3,800 students attended summer sessions, with more than half that number earning promotions, Pitt County Schools reported Monday.

Nearly 3,800 students attended summer sessions, with more than half that number earning promotions, Pitt County Schools reported Monday.

Director of Elementary Education Lisa Tate and Director of Secondary Education Monica Jacobson told the Board of Education that more than 1,800 Pitt County Schools students were able to move to the next grade level after attending summer school and extended semester, including more than 100 who received their high school diplomas.

“We’re very happy about (this) because most years for summer school, we usually have about 30 to 40 students that graduate,” Jacobson said.

Record numbers of students across the state and nation attended summer school in June and July to make up for lessons missed during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 15 percent of Pitt County’s 23,000 students spent up to 30 days over the summer in classrooms on 25 campuses throughout the district.

North Carolina lawmakers in April approved legislation requiring every school district in the state to offer an in-person summer school program. While the program was not mandatory for students, it was offered to those who had fallen behind in reading or math or were at risk of not being promoted to the next grade without some remediation.

Local public school summer attendance included 1,520 in elementary grades, 906 middle schoolers and 1,333 high school students. They represent about 62 percent of students invited to participate in the program.

Forty-three percent of summer school students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 37 percent of high schoolers had been full-time virtual students during the 2020-21 school year, Tate said.

“We were happy that the students that had been virtual were able to be face-to-face on campus, especially for our little ones,” she said. “It gave them a chance to get acclimated to be back in school, following a schedule.”

Nearly 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grade earned promotions, and 1,490 high school credits were recovered during summer school and extended semester, Jacobson said.

District 6 representative Worth Forbes wanted to know how many students were retained, but there were no statistics available Monday. Jacobson said it is not accurate to assume that the remaining 1,800 elementary and middle school students attending summer school were retained. Because the district was able to make sessions available to students who were not at risk of failing, some attended the program for enrichment, she said. In addition, state lawmakers required districts to promote all kindergarten students who attended summer school.

“I just want to know how accountable we held those students,” Forbes said. “I know we had a bad year, but we gave them every opportunity.”

Tate said that, in some cases, decisions about retaining students were made prior to the summer session.

“You can’t teach everything in 30 days in summer school,” she said. “Some of these children were really far behind.”

Regardless of whether or not they were promoted, Jacobson said students benefited from summer instruction in several ways, including receiving targeted instruction in reading, math, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In addition, she said, there were social benefits, including re-engaging in small groups and receiving support from school counselors.

Tate said that efforts continue this fall both during the school day and after school to help students recover from learning loss.

Superintendent Ethan Lenker told the board that the district should have Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds to provide summer instruction again next year.

“My guess is it won’t be as big, although it may be offered to as many,” he said.

Pitt County Virtual Academy

While quarantines due to COVID-19 may mean thousands of students are temporarily engaging in remote learning, Pitt County Schools has few full-time virtual learners this year, the district reported.

Nearly 200 students are enrolled full-time in Pitt County Virtual Academy, Tim DeCresie, director of digital learning, said.

The academy includes about 1,000 full-time and part-time virtual learners, mostly high school students taking one or two courses through PCVA or the North Carolina Virtual Public School. Seventy-one high school students and 122 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are enrolled as full-time virtual learners. Of those, 74 are middle school students, 40 are from grades four and five and eight are from kindergarten through third grade.

When PCVA was announced last spring, virtual enrollment initially was offered exclusively to grades four and older, a requirement that drew criticism from some parents concerned about the potential threat of COVID-19 among younger students. Other districts, including Wake County, received similar complaints, prompting them to allow younger students to enroll.

Pitt County Schools Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson said PCVA students younger than grade four were admitted due to their medical needs.

Overall, fewer students than expected applied to attend PCVA, DeCresie said, prompting the district to hire about half the number of teachers it initially had planned. A dozen teachers were hired to lead virtual classrooms, three at the elementary level, four each at the middle school and high school levels and one exceptional children’s teacher. The district also has contracted with three additional teachers.

District 5 representative Anna Barrett Smith asked if students could be added to PCVA due to some families’ concerns about the delta variant. DeCresie said some sections, such as eighth grade, are full but others could accommodate additional learners.

Unlike last school year’s virtual learning option, which was open to any student, PCVA required students to meet certain criteria. Participants had to have a minimum of a C average for the previous year’s courses and perform on grade level on end-of-grade testing and other required assessments. In addition, virtual students were required to have reliable internet, which does not include a cellphone data plan or school-provided hotspot.

Students can be reassigned to attend classes on campus if they fail to fulfill their online responsibilities, which include participating in class and completing assignments.

The school district, which began the 2020-21 school year with about 50 percent of its students as full-time virtual learners, ended the year with about 7,000 (approximately 30 percent) of its students continuing as online-only learners. But all students received some remote instruction throughout the year as classes met on campus Tuesdays through Fridays only.

A remote learning option continues to be used this year, DeCresie said, but it is distinct from virtual learning offered through PCVA. Remote learning is used for emergencies such as inclement weather, quarantines or temporary school or classroom closures.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.