The Hawaii Department of Education is rolling out a menu of options for summer learning this year that includes mobile learning hubs in remote areas and select classroom instruction to help make up for the loss of traditional learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release Tuesday, the DOE said priority will be placed on high needs and hard to reach students, with the goal of more permanently expanding e-school and “mobile learning labs” at pilot programs in four rural areas around the state.

“The focus of our programs over the next two months is targeted toward our high-need and hard to reach students, with added opportunities for credit advancement for our secondary students,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement.

DOE, Superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, education, summer school
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto talks with reporters during a Webex call Tuesday to discuss the DOE’s plans for summer school. Suevon Lee/Civil Beat/2020

Tuesday’s summer plan roll-out expands on public statements the schools chief made last week that indicated a return to some in-classroom instruction, primarily for special education students or those struggling with distance learning.

The summer options include “credit recovery” for students in grades 6 through 12 who need to redo or re-take required units to meet proficiency in a certain subject. The DOE is offering these online-only credit recovery programs free of charge to current juniors and seniors.

Summer school through DOE isn’t free, with fees up to $190 for one full-credit course.

Additionally, up to 6,000 juniors and seniors statewide will have the option to take up to six courses through the credit recovery program, which is slated for June 1 to July 19 across 38 schools, according to the DOE.

“It not only allows (students) to do credit recovery in one course but allows up to five to six classes. There’s a wealth of opportunity for our juniors and seniors,” she said.

“With an uptick in parents engaging in online learning or telework, we are recognizing that we need a help desk for families as well.” — Superintendent Christina Kishimoto

Among the state’s 11,183 high school seniors, 10% will not have been on track to graduate based on their third-quarter grades, the DOE said in an earlier release. That means potentially up to 1,118 seniors need to participate in credit recovery in order to be able to get their high school diplomas.

Kishimoto said the 6,000 seats for enhanced credit recovery will more than account for this crop of current seniors, plus juniors who don’t want to start their last year of school too far behind.

In a typical year, the DOE reaches about 4,000 students through summer school. While this year’s projected enrollment is still to be determined, the superintendent said she expects participation to be much higher than previous years.

The DOE has also secured 10,000 electronic devices to hand out to students who need them for summer school, she added.

“Overall, we should have more students with a wider breadth of options,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively halted the fourth quarter of traditional DOE instruction, with schools closing their doors as of mid-March and teachers pivoting to ungraded remote learning or enrichment activities.

The last day of the academic year is May 28, while the next school year is set to begin on Aug. 4.

The DOE expects to use at least a third of its share of $43 million in CARES Act funding toward summer learning options, Kishimoto said.

DOE will also be phasing in “mobile learning labs” this summer using vehicles outfitted with free Wi-Fi to serve students in remote, rural areas. The pilot areas include Kau on the Big Island, Hana on Maui, and the islands of Molokai and Kauai.

“They allow for instruction to be scheduled in different parts of the community that have poor Wi-Fi reception,” Kishimoto said.

This effort will be combined with the efforts already undertaken by community nonprofits to roll out a similar program, she said.

The DOE wants to turn these mobile learning labs into “Micro Learning Hubs” by fall, to allow for “authentic project-based learning, hands-on sustainability lessons, and applied arts,” according to a news release.

The DOE has also just begun a statewide effort to survey teachers, students and parents about their distance learning needs. The department distributed a survey to teachers on Monday, one to students Tuesday and one will be sent to parents early next month.

“This is not only informing device purchases and device access and how we provide that, but teacher training, parent training,” Kishimoto said of the surveys. “With an uptick in parents engaging in online learning or telework, we are recognizing that we need a help desk for families as well.”

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