Ducey summer camp program preps plans

Ducey summer camp program preps plans

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Teacher Kristine Jones, left, escorts some of her students to class at the Valencia Newcomer School Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Summer is closer than you think. 

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office is gearing up to release an application form in the coming weeks for schools or other community organizations that want to participate in a summer camp program that’s aimed at helping kids catch-up from learning loss suffered during the Covid pandemic. 

The summer camp is Ducey’s big plan for K-12 education, which was dramatically impacted by Covid, and the governor has said the camp will focus on reading, math and American civics. Organizations that apply and are selected will receive a portion of the $100 million of federal Covid money that Ducey set aside for the program, which he’s expecting to attract more than 200,000 students. 

The goal, according to the Governor’s Office, is to help kids learn while having fun.  

“Our vision for this is that kids are going to have a fun and engaging learning experience, they’re going to have the opportunity to acquire those really key academic skills and concepts that they didn’t have a chance to” learn, said Kaitlin Harrier, Ducey’s top policy adviser for education.

But if that sounds like summer school, the governor’s team insists it’s not.  

“They’re going to have so much fun doing it, they don’t even realize they’re learning, ideally,” Harrier said. 

The actual programs that will get kids having a great time and learning along the way won’t be defined by Ducey’s team, which will mainly serve as a checkbook for the program. They’re planning to review proposals and are asking applicants to show how they’ll bring fresh ideas to the summer camp. 

“There’s a number of different ways to do this,” Harrier said, “and we’ve got a lot of really high-flying education leaders out there who know the way. Our job, I think, is really just to give them a platform to offer those kinds of things.” 

Schools with an A, B or C rating can apply, as well as community organizations such as a YMCA or Boys & Girls Club. CJ Karamargin, a spokesman for Ducey, said in an email that the Governor’s Office isn’t limiting the type of organization that can apply, but the vetting committee will be looking for applicants who “demonstrate a track record of success in working with kids.”

“They’re going to have so much fun doing it, they don’t even realize they’re learning, ideally.”

Kaitlin Harrier, Gov. Doug Ducey’s top policy adviser for education.

Ducey’s team specifically cited declining student scores on statewide assessments as one reason for launching the program, but said the success of the summer camp will be determined by both academic growth and the satisfaction of students, teachers and parents who participate. 

The summer camp program was the result of a monthslong process to come up with solutions to address the learning loss that happened during the pandemic. Over the past few months, the governor’s team has held meetings with various stakeholders, including county school superintendents, to talk about ways to address what’s been lost during the pandemic.  

One of those who expressed interest in the summer program, according to Ducey’s office, was Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools Steve Watson. They said Watson was supportive of a program that encouraged learning, but didn’t simply replicate traditional summer school. Watson’s office said they didn’t have specifics yet, but they’re working on the program. 

Notably absent from the process so far is the Arizona Department of Education. ADE spokesman Richie Taylor told the Arizona Capitol Times the department learned about the program at the same time as everyone else – during Ducey’s State of the State Address.  

Taylor said ADE has not had any conversations with the Governor’s Office about the program in the two weeks since, either.  

“We don’t have any info at ADE other than what we’ve heard discussed publicly but are looking forward to hearing more details as they become available,” Taylor said. 

The Governor’s Office, however, said they’re expecting to work together with ADE and seek the department’s help in coordinating the program. 

In the days leading up to the State of the State, Ducey said education would be one of his top three priorities in 2022 and teased a major announcement. Before the speech, a staffer told reporters that the governor’s education plan would include an innovative solution to address pandemic-related learning loss that hadn’t been tried in any other state. 

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks to high school students at Phoenix Christian Preparatory School on January 26, 2022. PHOTO BY NICK PHILLIPS/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

One question about the program is whether teachers will be eager to sign up to teach during the summer months. Pay rates will be determined by individual locations, though the Governor’s Office is recommending that teachers earn their regular salary plus 20%. 

Quincy Natay, superintendent of the Chinle Unified School District on the Navajo Nation in Apache County, said he’s still waiting to hear details about Ducey’s program, but expects that schools in his district could apply for money from the Governor’s Office. Natay, 2021 Arizona Superintendent of the Year, said the district’s summer school offerings generally focus on students with learning deficits in math or English and seniors who need credit recovery.  

If he applies through the governor’s program, he’d likely put forward plans to do project-based learning or hands-on STEAM programs. Still, those aren’t new ideas – Natay said the district already developed and uses those learning programs. 

Natay also said he’s looking into using school personnel besides teachers to fill in teaching gaps. For example, he said bus drivers could learn how to implement summer STEAM programs for students. 

“As we know, everyone’s stressed and tired, and so staffing’s going to be a concern,” he said. 

Public school advocates said they felt there were more immediate needs to address before discussing summer programs. Save Our Schools Director Beth Lewis said waiting until summer to use the Covid relief dollars was “short-sighted and frustrating” when schools were struggling with not having enough teachers and substitutes in classrooms currently. 

“It’s a massive statewide collective eyeroll like, ‘Yes, Governor Ducey, you created summer school,’” Lewis said. “We’re calling it ‘summer camp,’ we’re using federal dollars, and this is like the one bone you’re going to throw teachers right now when we have very serious needs in classrooms right now.” 

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas also said he felt there were more pressing education issues and questioned why the proposal came so early in the year with that in mind. 

“That can be part of what we do this year – offer that for students that are wanting to, you know, move forward from wherever it is that they are when summer school starts, but we should be talking about what supports we’re going to be giving districts right now,” Thomas said. 

Chuck Essigs with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials said addressing learning loss is one of the highest priority needs of students, and summer programs are one way to do so. He said he would like to see Arizona put some of its own money toward the issue as well, to offer students more support. 

“Summer programs will be a lot better if it can be done with both federal dollars and state dollars,” Essigs said. 

Nick Phillips contributed to this report.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]