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Niagara Falls superintendent: 3 or 4 years of summer school is needed

Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie says students who suffered learning losses because of remote instruction will need summertime instruction to catch-up.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — “Learning losses.” That’s the term the New York State Education Department uses to describe the effect on K-12 students who did not learn as well with remote instruction. The pandemic and governmental restrictions forced schools to offer classes online or a mixture of in-person and remote learning.

The students who fared the worst are the youngest says Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie. 

“I’m talking about pre-K to second or third grade," Laurrie said. "There is a definite need to have kids in front of you."

To help make up for these learning losses in Niagara Falls schools, summer school will be offered. But Laurrie says it won’t just be a single summer of schooling to make up ground, but maybe much longer than that.

“In my opinion, it’s gonna take three or four years and we have that time with young kids. You’ve gotta stop talking about the school year that’s something from September to June,” Laurrie said.

The Niagara Falls City School District is ready to tack on an additional six weeks of schooling for elementary students. There will be four classes a week with instruction in the morning and fun activities in the afternoon. But because summer school is not mandatory, how many students will be enrolled?

Tarja Parssinen, who leads WNT Students First, an advocacy group that has pushed for more in-person learning during the pandemic. The Clarence mother has children that are in third and sixth grade who she described as “not where they need to be” academically. But Parssinen is not interested in a summer session of more remote instruction.

“If it were a virtual summer school that would not work for us. It’s just been too hard of a year. My kids can’t sit behind a screen anymore,” Parssinen said.

Niagara Falls is not alone anticipating greater need for summer instruction. Buffalo Public Schools are offering a similar six-week summer session for elementary grades.

Laurrie says student evaluations have begun in an attempt to identify students who would benefit from more schooling. And although summer school is a tough sell to students and parents, he says trying to play catch-up next school year is worse.

“What we’re not going to do is to try to rush and jam and cram everything to a year. That’s counter-productive to kids. We’ve got to take them at their level, at their pace, and work with them everyday in a differentiated way or we won’t recover,” Laurrie said.