“Kids for generations have been threatened with the elusive summer school: fail this test, miss this day, and kiss your vacation goodbye,” notes this NPR Ed article. This traditional idea of summer school refers to remedial summer school, which may be a requirement for students who are not passing their courses.
However, another breed of summer school classes called enrichment programs is becoming increasingly popular. Enrichment programs are optional summer learning opportunities that allow students to expand on their interests and cover additional material instead of making up courses they have failed.
Traditionally students—and their teachers—would need to physically “go to school” to take advantage of either of these summer school options. Technology is changing that, offering greater flexibility and other benefits through virtual summer school. Let’s review the benefits of online remedial summer school and enrichment programs.
Summer School Savings
Virtual summer school presents several benefits for teachers and school districts. For teachers, there is no need to physically go to the classroom at fixed times, and coursework can be created and posted at their convenience. Check-in times with students can also be scheduled at mutually convenient times. Educators can also take advantage of a wide range of existing online coursework and activities when planning their curricula.
For districts, the big benefit is potential cost savings. Currently, some districts are feeling the financial pinch when it comes to providing summer school options for students, such as Chicago. “Summer school for 17,450 Chicago Public School students could be scaled back dramatically if the Illinois General Assembly adjourns its spring session without providing pension relief to the nearly bankrupt school system,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times. The opportunity to take online classes could help provide remedial courses for the most vulnerable students if traditional summer school cannot be funded.
The Benefit of Flexibility
A major benefit for students of online summer school is the flexibility it offers for study time so that they can both complete coursework and have time to accommodate other summer activities at their convenience. The wider range of online options available can address both remedial needs and individual areas of interest.
For working parents, the flexibility of online classes minimizes transportation and scheduling issues around family summer activities. Other related needs may play a factor in parents wanting virtual summer school for their children as well. Second Wave reports that “whether it’s due to special needs, behavioral issues, learning delays, health problems, bullying at school, intense athletic training schedules, extensive travel or other extenuating circumstances, many families are turning to online learning for their children’s education.”
Consider the Hepfer family, whose 8-year-old son has Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism, and whose public school system does not have the resources or facilities to address his needs. Thanks to online classes, the Hepfer family was able to provide a comfortable learning environment for their son without having to relocate or stay at home full time. This flexibility and personalization makes virtual summer school a great option to use during hot months too.
Some online academies offering virtual summer schools are operated by public school systems but allow students to keep their home-schooled status. One example is Virtual Vantage Academy, which is operated by Bangor Public Schools in Michigan.
For-profit options are also available for students who are not necessarily required to go to summer school but are interested in boosting their comprehension of a topic, or simply learning something new. For example, The Virtual High School summer school program offers four- and eight-week courses on topics like world history, criminology, digital photography, and personal finance. Similarly, Apex Learning Virtual School offers Advanced Placement and honors level courses both for remediation and enrichment.
Takeaway: Online learning is not the answer for all students, of course—and it’s likely that this would never represent an “all or nothing” approach to remedial instruction. Still, it’s an option that bears some consideration. It’s too late for the 2016 summer season to adopt a virtual summer school concept for your school system, if you didn’t already have such an option in place. So now is the time to begin considering how you might leverage technology to provide benefits as outlined above while still ensuring an opportunity for students to gain the competencies they need to move forward.
1. “What We Don’t Know About Summer School” NPR Ed. July 7, 2014.
2. “CPS Warns of Dramatic Cutbacks to Summer School Programs” Chicago Sun-Times. May 13, 2016.
3. “Online Alternatives Expand Options for Home-Based Learners” Second Wave. May 19, 2016.
4. “Virtual Vantage Academy” Virtual Vantage Academy. 2014.