AVONDALE — There will be certified teachers.
But the newly announced plan for what Gov. Doug Ducey calls an academic “summer camp” won’t look anything like traditional school. Instead, it is being designed in a way to make it more engaging — and more interactive — than kids stuck in seats in public schools for an extra 8 to 10 weeks, aides to the governor said Wednesday.
“Summer camp is not summer school,” Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin said.
In fact, it’s not necessarily going to even take place at public schools.
“We’re going to use a combination of existing school buildings and other facilities,” Ducey said. That, said his aides, means everything from community centers and local libraries to boys and girls clubs.
Geography and teaching methods notwithstanding, Ducey said the goal remains the same.
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“The objective here is a summer camp to catch our kids up who have fallen behind in math and reading and other skills, along with additional subjects that we can reinforce, like American civics,” he said.
The program, first announced at his State of the State speech on Monday, will be voluntary. But Ducey, who promised more details when his budget is released on Friday, said it is designed to encourage participation.
Ducey emphasized, though, it will be free, with the state using federal COVID-19 relief dollars to pick up the tab.
“What we want to do is make this easily accessible for families and for young people,” he said. “We also want to encourage everyone that needs it to be there.”
In fact, Ducey aides said, the plan is to provide transportation as well as lunch for what are programs that are expected to be the same length as a standard school day.
At the heart of the problem, the governor said, is that K-12 education has been affected and interrupted because of COVID-19.
“It’s been during the pandemic that we’ve seen real issues around academics and other things that have happened, including mental health and counseling and other issues that need to be addressed,” Ducey said Wednesday.
Some of that was directly related to the fact that Ducey himself closed schools throughout the state for months early in the pandemic. While there is no longer any statewide closure order, there have been decisions since then by individual school boards to go to remote learning for periods of time after COVID breakouts.
And the governor believes a lot has been lost in the interim.
“The camp is specifically on the academics to bring people up to where they should be,” he said. Ducey said that recent results of standardized assessment tests show that Arizona students have fallen behind.
How long the camp — or camps — will last is still being worked out.
“Not all schools stop at the exact same time,” Ducey said.
“We’re thinking of this as a late May, June, July thing,” he continued. “We are looking at that time frame of 8 to 10 weeks.”
He noted, though, that some districts operate on a year-round calendar, with smaller breaks between sessions.
“So we want to have options for people,” he said.
The governor has promised to provide at least $100 million for the program. And Karamargin said that, as far as his boss is concerned, money is not going to be a barrier if enrollment turns out to be far higher than that cash will cover.
“That is a good problem to have,” he said. “It is a clear indication of where parents are in wanting to address the recent assessment results indicated, and that is the disruption in learning that has happened over the past two years.”
But Karamargin said that students and parents should not interpret the program — and the fact that it’s being called “summer camp” — as just a way to fill time.
“This is not meant as a something-to-do option during the dog days of summer,” he said.
“There is a clear purpose here,” Karamargin continued. “And that is to address the learning gaps that the most recent assessment tests revealed.”
That’s why the plan is to hire teachers who work in schools currently graded A, B or C, though there may be some outreach to teachers in lower-rated schools who have a proven record of performance.
“We’re going to find a way to take people that are skilled in the profession, allow them to make additional funds, and bring our kids up to grade level,” the governor said.
The program is open to all public school students, regardless of grade. That also includes children in charter schools which, under Arizona law, also are considered public schools.
Karamargin said, though, this does not include youngsters going to private or parochial schools.