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Billings admins hope summer classes will bring remote learners back up to speed

Masks no longer required for students and staff
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Posted at 3:30 PM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 17:30:48-04

BILLINGS — Billings public school students in 3rd through 8th grades who took remote classes in the 2021-22 school year generally saw a drop in reading and math proficiency and less growth in the subjects compared to their in-person counterparts, according to data presented by Roger Dereszynski, assessment coordinator for Billings School District 2 at a Monday board meeting.

Administrators anticipated that students would have some catching up to do after the COVID-19 pandemic brought disruptions to the tail end of one school year and the entirety of another. As a result, district staff have embarked on the first-ever offering of K-12th grade summer school to help students get back up to speed.

The classes have started up and students will attend half days for six to eight weeks depending on grade level. Brenda Koch, executive director of leadership support for the district, helped craft the K-5th grade summer school program and presented enrollment data to trustees.

Koch said 761 students will learn reading and math across 15 Billings school locations from 109 teachers for the next six weeks.

Koch also presented enrollment numbers for Randy Russell, another executive director of leadership and support for the district who headed the creation of middle school summer classes, but was absent from the board meeting.

About 259 middle school students were enrolled in the summer classes across five school locations, Koch said. About 29 teachers are giving lessons in English, math and science for half days in the six-week program.

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An electric sign on the outside of a Billings school wishes students a good summer.

In the high schools, students can recover credits needed for graduation for classes that they failed during the normal school year. The program is similar to the summer offerings of years past, but this summer there's the addition of elective classes students can take that saw high failure rates during the pandemic, Koch said.

Billings school Superintendent Greg Upham said the summer classes are being paid for with the help of $54 million the district received in the form of federal coronavirus relief money. The plan is to offer a similar summer school program at the end of next school year, Upham told MTN News earlier in the month.

Upham told trustees he hopes the two years of district-wide summer classes could serve as a case study to find out what extra school days could do to combat a "summer dip" or regression in learning that's usually seen in students during the three months away from the classroom.

In work sessions scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, trustees will hear more about the assessment data from Upham and his staff and how remote students further compared to their in-person counterparts over the past school year. Upham said the meetings will also cover information on the school budget and how the district will spend it's federal coronavirus relief money.

Monday also marked the first time since the start of the school year in 2020 that students and staff were not required to wear masks inside the Billings school buildings. Masks will still be required on the school bus.

In an email sent out to staff on Friday, Upham cited Centers for Disease Control guidance as his reasoning for lifting the mask mandate.

The CDC recommends fully vaccinated people can go without a mask indoors. About 44 percent or 60,000 Yellowstone County residents age 12 or older are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Monday state tracking map.

RELATED: Billings school staff gearing up for largest summer school offering yet