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Willmar Public Schools' summer school packed with students who struggled with distance learning, need to wrap up some classes

Thanks to the pandemic, more high school students are in summer school than Willmar Public Schools has ever seen. It's a good deal for kids who struggled with distance learning. They can come to summer school to complete the portions of a class they were close to finishing, earn the credit and stay on track for graduation.

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Ninth grade student Quaveon Cook, 15, left, solves a math problem with the help of math teacher Jared Anderson Thursday, June 9, 2021, during summer school at Willmar Senior High School in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Carter Schow and Liban Aden had a science project to finish, a simple car powered by a mousetrap.

Things hadn’t gone so well initially, they said. “The first time we overthought it,” Carter, 15, said. Now, the car sails across a Willmar Senior High School classroom floor.

While they set up the car, science teacher Margaret Schmitz peppered them with questions about their work, proving that summer school may be a little less formal, but it’s not easier.

The goal for the largest summer school ever at Willmar Public Schools is to help students who fell off track during the pandemic to finish classes and stay on track to graduation.

More than 250 students from the Senior High and Area Learning Center are working to complete credits in a three-week session that ends July 1.

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The summer school is funded in part with federal pandemic relief aid to help students fill in learning gaps caused by the upheaval to school schedules during the pandemic.

Students who fell just short of a credit have been invited to summer school to complete the parts of a class they didn’t complete. The alternative would be to retake the entire course during the school year or take an Area Learning Center night class.

“For some students, it’s extremely motivating — this structure which allows them to work at their own pace,” said high school Assistant Principal Jen Bobbe. Once they complete their missing credits, students are done with summer school.

“It takes a certain degree of initiative,” she said, but once they know exactly what they need to do, students are working evenings and weekends to finish.

One day last week, a whiteboard in the high school’s media center showed that students had already made progress, completing 62 credits in the morning of the sixth day of school.

Students who complete credits have the chance to erase the old number and add their new credit to the total. Jana Anderson, co-coordinator at the Senior High, said she expected to see at least 10 more by the end of that day.

The Area Learning Center has a summer school each summer for students trying to finish credits. This year it’s at both high schools because the ALC simply isn’t big enough to hold them all.

As it is, the much smaller alternative high school building is packed.

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At both schools, students said distance learning had been difficult for them.

Quaveon Cook needed to pass two quizzes to finish his ninth-grade algebra class at the high school. He had already passed one quiz and was working on his second with teacher Jared Anderson.

In distance learning, “it was just hard for me to understand some of this stuff,” Quaveon said.

Anderson said he decided to teach summer school for the kids who needed some extra help, to help them stay on track to graduate.

At the ALC, Coordinator Betty Dawson said attendance has been good at summer school. “We have lots of kids on a mission,” she said.

Many students have said they had trouble concentrating or keeping up during distance learning, she said.

Iman Hassan, 17, and Faiza Abdulahi, 18, both going into 12th grade, were studying economics history at the ALC.

While she didn’t think distance learning was that hard, “I wasn’t motivated to do it,” Abdulahi said. “It’s fun to be back at school; I missed the teachers.”

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At the high school, the science students weren’t done once they got their mousetrap car to work. They still needed to analyze the results.

The car allows students to apply concepts they learned in their physical science class, including an understanding of motion, forces, Newton’s Law, Schmitz said.

The Area Learning Center brought in more teachers and paras than in a normal summer school, Dawson said. The high school “did an awesome job recruiting” to staff such a large program.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONMINNESOTAWILLMAR
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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