June 3 is officially the last day of the 2020-21 school year at Des Moines Public Schools. But this summer learning and activities will be underway in every corner of the school district more than ever before, part of major effort to support students after a COVID-interrupted year.

“Everyone’s life was impacted in one way or another due to the pandemic, including students across the state and nation as schools functioned in uncharted territory, trying to find a balance between the public’s health and our children’s education,” said Matt Smith, associate superintendent at DMPS. “There is no denying the fact that this affected our students in many different ways, which is why hundreds of DMPS teachers and staff are committed to helping students this summer, both making up areas from this past year and being prepared for a strong start to a new school year in August.”

Just over 3,000 students across all grade levels – 1 out of every 10 DMPS students – are slated to participate in this year’s expanded summer programming . That is more students than 90% of Iowa’s school districts have on a normal school day. Students were selected to participate based on things such as at-risk factors or credit recovery at the high school level.

This effort is possible thanks to funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), part of the federal government’s response to impact of COVID-19.

“The fact that the federal Administration and Congress recognize the importance of doing everything we can to help our students means we are able to do so much more this year,” added Noelle Nelson, executive director of teaching and learning at DMPS. “This support also gives us an opportunity to break from past practices to improve the core experience for all, including a focus on key areas such as access to a high-quality curriculum and our social and emotional learning efforts.”

The summer program is designed to meet the different needs of each grade level. More than 1,100 elementary students will be at a dozen sites around the city, with academic work each morning from 8:00 AM to 11:30 followed by activities provided by Metro Kids and other partners in the afternoon. Middle school students will be at six DMPS locations, including a special program for 8th graders heading to high school to help with that important transition. At the high school level the focus will be on credit recovery to help students in grades 10-12 meet the requirements to graduate.

Hundreds of DMPS teachers and staff will be hard at work to make the summer program a success. At the high school level alone 125 educators will be working with over 1,100 students, in addition to support from SUCCESS workers and Community School coordinators. On top of that, staff in areas ranging from food and nutrition to technology to transportation to custodial will all be keeping the educational wheels turning just as in the middle of a school year.

This is all in addition to usual summer activities at DMPS, from programs offered by Metro Kids to sports camps at high schools to our summer graduation ceremony (this year scheduled for August 14).

And don’t forget our partners! Organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, the Children & Family Urban Movement (CFUM), the Oakridge Neighborhood, and the YMCA are among those providing additional enrichment activities and supports for students. DMARC has aligned their mobile food pantry dates and sites according to our summer program schedule so that families are able to visit the mobile food pantry during pickup and drop off throughout the summer. Vision to Learn has committed to 10 days of eye exams for students enrolled in the summer program, providing eye exams and two pairs of glasses (if needed). And leaders from United Way of Central Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Partnership continue to work with DMPS in finding new avenues of support, making this truly a community-wide effort.

Everyone at DMPS is looking forward to the start of a more normal school year in August. Thanks to the work underway this summer, it can also be a great school year.

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