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COVID-19 among the many reasons students seek additional help

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | August 8, 2020 1:00 AM

High school students participating in summer school may come in with a variety of circumstances, but all share the same reason to recover enough credits to graduate on time.

“Our main goal for summer courses are for students who failed a course, or are extremely credit-deficient,” said Kalispell Public Schools Summer School Director Anthony Lapke. “So, that student may be heading into their junior year or senior year and they’re not going to make it to graduation without additional courses.”

There are some similarities each year of what brings a student to summer school.

“Students who had an illness, students who struggle with attendance, students who just need a little TLC — you see similarities throughout the year,” said Lapke, who has been director for four years.

Educator Lissy Boar added, “You have 60 students, you’ll get 60 different stories. You can’t pigeonhole one story of why kids are here.”

This year, at least a couple of student stories included being affected by school closures that began in March due to COVID-19. Despite the district loosening grading and homework policies — students who struggled before the closure had an even harder time without the classroom contact.

“In the classroom, we’ve got the ability to help motivate and get those students through and get them to a place where they need to be, but when you don’t see them face-to-face it’s harder. It’s much, much harder, and it’s harder for the students, too, because when they’re next to their peers that helps their motivation,” Lapke said.

“We have a student here, in talking to her, she had never failed a math class before. Math was hard, but she never failed, and she failed second semester in part because she was struggling when the schools closed and she was never able to dig out of that,” he said. “So that’s why she’s here and she’s going to earn her credit and she’s doing quite well.”

Going into the closures, Linderman Education Center student Elias Farris was familiar with working independently, but was still affected by the closures, which disrupted the routines that go with attending school.

“A big reason why I’m here is because of the closures and not being able to work at school physically. I wasn’t able to kind of keep that groove I did when I was at Linderman Education Center,” Farris said. “It was motivation for me, but also another thing was asking questions.”

His top goal for attending summer school is to graduate as soon as possible and move on.

“One thing I would like to move into is trade school,” Farris said. Right now he is thinking about becoming an electrician.

Of course some students may be enrolled because parents want them to improve, but student buy-in is a big factor to finding success in the program, according to summer school teacher Abby Connolly.

“They realize if I’m here I can graduate on time and they kind of want to be here for that. If they get done early they work very hard,” Connolly said.

This summer, 86 students from Flathead and Glacier high schools and Linderman Education Center completed a total of 155 courses according to Lapke. Enrollment was down from 2019, where 111 students completed 171 courses.

“Our overall number of students enrolled in summer school for June was close to normal, but July is lower. It is hard to say why it may be lower, but I think many students started summer jobs earlier than usual this year, ” he said, possibly due to school closures, “and it is harder to get them back to school in the middle of the summer if they have been working.”

“I also think it was harder to capture kids [before school was over] for summer school due to school closures,” he said.

In a normal school year, guidance counselors meet with students who would benefit from summer school to talk about the program.

“It’s a different feel when you can be eye-to-eye with a student versus calls, emails and texts,” he said.

He said the enrollment numbers worked out, however, in regard to space. This year, summer school was held in a pod containing computer labs at Glacier High School as opposed to Linderman Education Center, which was under construction. “I was concerned we wouldn’t have the physical space to do it the way we needed to with social distancing,” Lapke said.

Summer school covers core classes such as math, English, science and history and not electives.

“We do a lot of English, biology and algebra, that one is a big hitter for us,” Lapke said.

Classes are primarily taken online through the Montana Digital Academy. Public school teachers throughout the state teach Montana Digital Academy classes. The online academy is meant to supplement curriculum offerings in schools, particularly in rural schools that may not have the staff or funding to offer them otherwise, such as Advanced Placement or dual credit programs. Lapke, for example, teaches Advanced Placement calculus for the academy during the school year.

Summer school can be as intensive as students want since they work at their own pace. The program holds two three-hour sessions, four days a week starting in June. Students, however, can only work on one course at a time, which they must complete before starting another one, if necessary.

The reason students can work intensively is because they’ve been through the material at least once before and are not being taught new concepts like in the regular school year.

“It’s amazing what kids can do in two weeks in one course,” Lapke said.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.