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NHCS's 'Summer Ignite' is students' chance to recover academically from Covid-19. How's it going?

Teachers worked closely with students during NHCS' summer ignite.
Mattie Holloway
Teachers worked closely with students at New Hanover High School during NHCS' Summer Ignite program.

A state law passed earlier this year requires school districts across North Carolina to implement summer learning programs to help students deal with the challenges of the pandemic. WHQR checked in on New Hanover County’s version -- Summer Ignite.

In New Hanover County, Students are invited based on test scores and performance — those deemed “at-risk,” get a chance to recover credits and learn foundational skills in the six-week program.

According to three women who are helping to run it in New Hanover County — Ashley Goodlet, Kimberly Fullard, and Anita Brown — so far, it’s been a success. Ashley is a site coordinator at Wrightsboro elementary and Kimberly and Anita are coordinators at the district level. Asked to explain what they do in the program, they all laughed.

Short version: it’s a lot of work.

Luckily, the three coordinators have help from their teachers. Kimberly admits that recruiting teachers was a challenge in the program’s inception. After battling remote learning and COVID-19, some teachers were hesitant to give up their summer.

“From our standpoint, I know, it was a struggle at first. And we made the suggestion of breaking it up into sessions, because, you know, we did hear from a lot of teachers that didn't want to work the full six weeks," Kimberly said.

Teachers were also offered incentives to work at the program in addition to their daily pay.

Kimberly said, “I think the bonuses are a huge aspect of it. The base price started for teachers at two thousand. And then went up based on certain criteria, like if you have national boards, or if you have met, exceeded your growth, two years in a row… So I think, you know, that was a great incentive to encourage teachers to do it.”

Since only a handful of schools are hosting the program, teachers and students from other schools have to commute to hosting sites. For example, Ashley hosts her Wrightsboro students and students from Murrayville and Castle Hayne. She says that working with new families was challenging at first, but the program now allows for productive collaboration among faculty.

“The parents… it took a while for them to understand without Well, you're not from Maryville are you? Who are you? So building that relationship with them was, I won't say really a struggle at first, but that took some getting used to from their part of how we do things for summer ignite versus their regular home school," Ashley said.

The three women agree that the hard work is rewarding, and they’re seeing the program’s progress first hand. Zemir Bellamy is a Rising Senior at New Hanover High School. He was identified as “at-risk” going into the summer, but now he’s on track to graduate a semester early.

“It's a lot more instruction, instead of being on computer monitors. So I think it's been a lot better for us to actually get the instruction--one on one instruction," Zemir said.

The summer program offers smaller class sizes than a typical school year. When I walked around New Hanover High, I didn’t see more than seven students to a classroom, some with more than one teacher in each. Zemir is one of over nine thousand students who were invited to the program in New Hanover County, but less than four thousand students actually committed to attending. The program was optional for eligible students. Those in the classrooms are the ones who want to be there. But in the fall, there will still be around five thousand students who didn’t receive help from the summer intensive.

Robert Ott is a teacher in the Summer Ignite program and is head of New Hanover High School’s science department. According to him, these students may have a tough transition.

“It's going to be basically starting over. We saw that with the ones that came back this spring, or last fall when we had groups in and out that it was an adjustment period," he said.

Robert is proud of the growth he and his colleagues have made with students over the summer, but he admits that if he could change anything about the program, he would hope to reach all of the students who need help.

When I asked Anita, Kimberly, and Ashley about this program returning in the future, the three women agreed that if a program like Summer Ignite can come together on short notice for such a short period of time and still create opportunities for students, why not continue similar programs in the future? Anita says there’s a possibility.

“I don't think that we can argue with the success of the program. Of course, you know, with the bonuses, it just depends on what teachers are going to be paid and what those bonuses may look like. And they're just some outstanding factors that we don't have any control over. But you know, I think that if things fall into place, I'm sure the district would like to, to carry it on," said.

Mattie Holloway is a North Carolina native from Emerald Isle. She is a rising junior at Emerson College majoring in writing, literature, and publishing. Mattie has interned for Public Radio East; she is part of Emerson’s honors program; and writes for her school’s lifestyle magazine, Atlas. When she’s not working, Mattie enjoys going to the beach, trying to find the perfect cup of coffee, and receiving book recommendations.