© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What does summer school look like in 2023 for students who need to recover credits?

Graduates at Rockford Public Schools' 2023 Summer Commencement ceremony
Rockford Public Schools
Graduates at Rockford Public Schools' 2023 Summer Commencement ceremony

It’s late July at Jefferson High School in Rockford.

“Okay, bear with me, I'm a little nervous. Okay. Good morning, everyone. My name is Jamari Williams, and I'm honored to stand before you on this momentous occasion.”

Williams is the student speaker at Rockford Public Schools’ summer commencement ceremony.

“Reflecting back on my journey," he said, "it hasn't always been smooth sailing, focusing on countless challenges, juggling assignments, extracurriculars, personal challenges and responsibilities all at once,” he said. “All that just led me to this moment -- and it's been a long time coming.”

Students face him in their cap and gowns with proud families looking on. Jamari’s right. It hasn't always been smooth sailing. They learned through a pandemic, maybe failed a class or two and had to work even harder to make up that credit and reach the finish line.

Just this summer, Rockford Public Schools students recovered over 1,000 credits. And summer isn’t the only time students can recover credits. They offer night school throughout the school year.

RPS Chief of Schools Morgan Gallagher says they’re using federal pandemic relief funds to reimagine summer school and credit recovery in general. Instead of only housing night school at Roosevelt -- Gallagher says students can recover credits at their own high school. Summer school will soon be decentralized in the same way.

He says the old system created issues for students who wanted to do credit recovery, but couldn’t make it.

“When night school was at Roosevelt [Community Education Center], Jefferson [High School] students never attended because of transportation,” he said. “They just couldn't get to night school in time, because of the distance they had to travel to be able to get to night school.”

On top of transportation, Gallagher says it means they’re also taught by the teachers who know them.

This spring was the first semester they had night school at all of the high schools and students recovered over 1,200 credits. Gallagher says if you add that to 1,000 from this summer, “That's 2,300 credits. That's already double the highest amount of credits recovered in any previous year.”

And that’s not counting the fall. So, if you tack that on, he expects four or maybe five times the number of credits they’ve recovered in a year.

But the goal is for students not to have to recover credits. The goal is for students to pass the first time around.

Students everywhere -- not just in Rockford -- failed more classes during the pandemic. Gallagher says the first year coming back in person was a major struggle.

“We had close to 11,000 total failures at [the] high schools," he said. "That's gone down year over year since then, but still not quite enough."

There are still a lot. 478 students were enrolled in summer school credit recovery this year. But that’s half as many as who needed it back in 2021 — according to public records obtained by WNIJ. So, even though Gallagher isn’t satisfied yet, it’s still a big improvement.

At the DeKalb School District, Sarah Montgomery is the Director of Teaching and Learning for middle and high school. She emphasizes that summer school includes a lot of programs.

“It's the credit advancement, credit recovery," she said, "[but also] driver's ed is a significant and important milestone to our students, the extended school year, and then some enrichment programs."

Credit recovery is one piece. And they also utilize Edgenuity-- an online platform where students can make up a wide array of classes.

The number of DeKalb students in a traditional summer school credit recovery classroom setting has remained pretty steady over the past few years. But the total number using Edgenuity has gone up from 75 in 2021 to 113 this year.

DeKalb’s Director of Student Services, Kyle Gerdes, says they’ve tried to make those flexible, online courses accessible -- especially for special education students.

And DeKalb -- like Rockford -- now uses an early warning system to try to catch students when their grades start to slip. It looks at attendance, grades, and office referrals -- so they know who to send more academic or mental health support.

Like Jamari Williams in Rockford mentioned in his summer commencement speech -- students have faced so many unique challenges the past few years. And even though they went through summer school and credit recovery -- it all led to this moment for him and the other students graduating.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.