Esko summer programming geared towards helping elementary and high school students recover academic progress lost during the COVID-19 pandemic has been deemed a success, with school officials reporting nothing but positive outcomes.

The initiative was unanimously voted into action by the school board in late May after officials brought forward the idea, citing a high number of students who needed help after a year of unusual learning.

While the elementary program is still going, the high school program wrapped up on July 1, with 56 of the 58 failed semester courses recovered.

“That is highly successful,” Greg Hexum, high school principal, said. “There could be a very negative snowball effect from those failures, and instead it’s … gonna be positive in many, many ways.”

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The high school program was geared towards credit recovery, with students entering into two contracts: one for enrollment and one for credits. The enrollment contract provided basic expectations for student behavior in the program, while the credit contract detailed what tasks the student had to complete in each failed course to pass.

“It helped them see that they still had to be accountable for that work,” high school teacher Kristy Streveler told the school board on Monday, July 12.

Streveler, along with teachers Jeremiah Weaver, Caitlin Lilly and Sam Longseth, oversaw 30 high school students and worked with them one-on-one and in small groups for the three weeks directly following the end of the school year.

Streveler shared that the teachers’ relationships with students helped them know how to best motivate them to do the work. In the end, she also felt like the program helped boost the students’ self-esteem, showing them that they were always capable of getting the work done.

“It didn’t feel like it was a ‘70s summer school,” she said.

Similar reports came from the elementary summer sessions, which includes 35 students learning in small groups. Each group is sectioned off by grade level, with teachers from the appropriate grade helping guide the students.

“I was really amazed at the energy that was in those classrooms,” Superintendent Aaron Fischer said Monday. “The kids that were there were really engaged.”

Brian Harker, principal of Winterquist Elementary School, told the board in May that the decision was made to implement summer recovery sessions for younger students after educators saw significant improvement in students who participated in winter intervention programs.

The summer program cost the district $14,760. According to Fischer, those expenses were offset by state and federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Furthermore, the Minnesota Department of Education approved the high school summer school program to become an authorized alternative learning provider, which allowed Esko to request funding from the state. In the end, revenue from the state brought in about $7,500, Hexum said.

This story originally listed an incorrect instructor for the Esko summer classes. It was updated at 11:41 a.m. July 14, 2021. The Pine Journal regrets the error.

This story originally contained incorrect numbers for students who participated in the summer program. It was updated at 1:50 p.m. July 15, 2021. The Pine Journal regrets the error.