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Amelia Carr’s first year working for Fairfax County Public Schools was miles apart from what she had imagined when she declared that she wanted to become a teacher in her sixth-grade yearbook.

The Bucknell Elementary School kindergarten teacher began her career as an educator in the unpredictable world of September 2020, when classes were confined to the computer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the virtual setting wasn’t ideal, especially for restless kindergarteners, Carr made an effort to encourage the same level of engagement and socializing that her students would’ve gotten in person, whether that meant creating a YouTube channel or sending materials in the mail.

“I did Lunch Buddies where we would eat lunch together. In kindergarten, playtime is really important, so we would still do ‘playdates’ on the computer,” Carr said. “…Because they had nothing to compare it to, they were just excited to meet new friends because they had been so lonely during the pandemic.”

Carr didn’t navigate the turbulence of school in a pandemic alone. Her best friend, roommate, and fellow “Outstanding Elementary New Teacher” award winner Shelby Press became a second-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School in fall 2020.

Press credits the University of Mary Washington education program that they both attended and the shift online in the middle of their final semester with giving them the classroom experience, tools, and flexibility needed to handle that first year.

“We had a good sense of technology, a really strong background of how to apply lessons, make them virtually, how to make them engaging, and also, most importantly to us, making things culturally responsive to our students,” she told FFXnow. “Working at Title I schools, our students come from various different places, speaking many different languages, and it was important for us to really reach those students through the camera.”

Summer classes underway at FCPS

Now approaching their third year with FCPS, Press and Carr are among the many teachers supporting the school system’s ongoing summer learning programs, which have been significantly expanded over the past two years in response to the pandemic.

As of mid-July, FCPS had 33,500 students enrolled in its summer programs, according to spokesperson Jennifer Sellers. Options include enrichment activities as well as credit recovery and Extended School Year (ESY) services for students who need academic help. Read More

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Entrance of Fairfax County Public Schools' administrative headquarters
Fairfax County Public Schools’ administrative headquarters in Merrifield (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools has found savings to provide a second year of expanded summer learning programming.

The $12.5 million needed for the enhanced summer school will come from reserve staffing funds that went unused due to FCPS’ decreased student enrollment, according to the district.

“We realize that…access to summer programming is important for all of our students,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said at a school board meeting on Thursday (March 10). “It is a game-changer.”

The funds will be officially approved at a future meeting as part of a third-quarter review of the fiscal year 2022 budget, which spans from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year.

Intended to offset learning losses attributed to the shift to virtual classes during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, FCPS expanded its summer school offerings last year to accommodate more than 35,000 students — 10 times the number served in a typical year.

However, staffing shortages for the Extended School Year program, which serves students with disabilities, forced FCPS to delay classes and left many families frustrated.

Corbett-Sanders suggested summer enrollment was adversely affected because of how FCPS handled the situation. She said FCPS expects there will be increased interest in this year’s offerings, which includes a return of the Extended School Year program for an anticipated 3,308 students in special education.

FCPS says special education teachers who participate in the ESY program will receive a flat rate of $68 per hour, with consulting and homebound teachers getting a compensation rate of $50 per hour.

The largest program will be Summer Olympians Aspire and Reach (SOAR), which is expected to have an estimated 13,400 students. The program teaches kindergarten through sixth-grade students math and literacy skills to prepare them for the upcoming school year.

Other planned programs include a credit recovery academy for high school students, an online campus with virtual classes, enrichment programs, Young Scholars, Bridge to Kindergarten for children who did not attend preschool, and a summer recovery academy for students with disabilities.

Overall, FCPS anticipates that more than 33,000 students will enroll in a summer learning program this year.

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