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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — With the arrival of May, the first full pandemic school year is drawing to a close. And, in the wake of a second school year disrupted by isolation, students will have the opportunity to hone their social and academic skills starting this summer.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will distribute $14 million in federal funds for summer programs across the state starting this summer.

“It has been a year like no other. And we will have a summer like no other as well,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister at a news conference Monday.

Administrators from across the state flanked Hofmeister at a news conference at Caesar Chavez Elementary school in Oklahoma City where she announced the initiative “Ready Together Oklahoma.”

“The greatest challenge”

“We arguably face the greatest challenge in education in modern history,” said Hofmeister. “And, that is how do we ensure that our kids will rebound from the pandemic stronger than ever?”

She acknowledged that catching students up on their academic and social skills losses could not be accomplished in one summer or by one classroom teacher. Instead, it will take many different groups and organizations working with the schools to address the needs of the state’s children.

“We want to focus on unfinished learning,” said Hofmeister. “We need to get our kids back on track academically. And we need to support our young people who have been socially and emotionally disconnected due to the pandemic, quarantining and all kinds of unexpected turbulence and disruption this year.”

Community organizations recruited

The Ready Together program will channel federal funds to community agencies that are already in the business of helping kids in their development.

The first $6 million of the $14 million to be spent will go to the Oklahoma Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs and the Oklahoma Alliance of YMCAs.

Those two organizations were chosen first because they already have strong statewide networks in place and can immediately start putting the funds to use this summer.

Beyond that, Hofmeister said that other community organizations would be recruited in the near future for other enrichment programs.

She said that child nutrition, transportation, extracurricular, enrichment activities, and social/emotional supports were all needed to address the effects of what has turned into a year and a half of pandemic schooling.

OKC students

Among several public school district administrators from across the state, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel spoke about the impact of the pandemic on Oklahoma City’s core public school district.

“It’s incredible that after arguably the most difficult year any of us have ever had or will ever had in this profession, we still have educators who are bringing their A game every single day,” said McDaniel. “We have parents and other caregivers who have been resilient, who have been patient with us. We have kids who, as you’ve heard, they’re eager not to get on zoom necessarily anymore, but to get back into school into the setting where safety is provided where people care about them at unbelievable levels.”

McDaniel said that with the additional funds, OKCPS will have credit recovery programs at Northwest Classen and Spencer High Schools.

The district will host invite-only summer “enhancement opportunities” for those elementary and middle-school children who need more support in English language arts and math.

Beyond those targeted activities, OKCPS will offer opportunities for all students through both the Canvas online tool that has been in use throughout this school year. Also, through community organizations that will partner with the district, students will have in-person enrichment opportunities.

McDaniel said that those opportunities would center around STEM, fine arts, outdoor healthy living, and community service.

Meals and transportation

OKCPS will be providing meals at the sites and significantly, 35 bus routes to provide transportation for students.

Child nutrition has been a significant aspect of the OKCPS footprint in the community as well as transportation for students to and from school during regular school years.

The way for students who need to get to the program sites the most to have access will be through those bus routes.

After the news conference McDaniel told Free Press that having the “unprecedented” 35 bus routes running in the summer was what he believed to the the “first time ever” for that many routes.

McDaniel said, “If I’m a Pre-K through 12th grade kid, and the bus is going to come two blocks from my house, and I can jump on and go eat meals, go to camp, go get some credit recovery…, this is a big deal for us.”

Recovery for kids

McDaniel talked with Free Press about three areas where kids’ isolation has caused them to either hold steady or go backward but not advance: academic loss, mental health, and social/emotional development “particularly for little bitty kids.”

“Ideally, what it does is it gets them back to a sense of normalcy, it gets that kind of that headstart during the summer, where they can enter back into school, and be ready to learn. They feel good about themselves, they feel good about life,” McDaniel told us.

Last Updated May 4, 2021, 9:45 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor