With nearly all Los Angeles Unified students now connected to online learning, superintendent Austin Beutner on Monday outlined an expanded array of summer courses the district will offer to help make up for lost learning during coronavirus closures.
Along with standard math and reading classes, Beutner said the district is offering newly designed courses on sports science, animated film and other topics over the summer in a greatly enlarged program. The session begins June 24, will be entirely online and will be open to all students for the first time in the district’s history.
“If the transition to online learning is our moonshot, the rocket’s been built and lift off has occurred,” Beutner added. “We’re in the early days of an extraordinary voyage.”
Beutner also made his latest plea to state lawmakers to prioritize funding schools in their upcoming budget deliberations.
LA Unified’s expanded summer session is a major departure from the standard summer school program that in the past has been only for special education students, high school students who need extra credits to graduate and students who were not meeting grade level standards.
With 600,000 students, LA Unified is by far the largest school district in California. Schools in the district have been closed for in-person classes since March 16 because of the spread of the coronavirus. Through partnerships with Amazon and Verizon, the district has since distributed devices and WiFi hotspots to hundreds of thousands of students who weren’t able to access the internet at home before the pandemic.
As it has for many districts around the states, connecting students online, especially elementary students, has been a major challenge. Now, 96% of elementary school students and 98% of middle schoolers and high schoolers are equipped to participate in some form of online learning, Beutner said. During the first week of school closures, just 18% of elementary school students, 74% of middle school students and 84% of high schoolers had participated at least once in online learning.
“Students of all levels are now able to participate in learning and remarkable things are beginning to happen,” Beutner said Monday.
However, not every student who has been connected has equal access to the internet. Some students, for example, share devices with siblings and other family members.
Students who are struggling the most with distance learning will be offered “intensive instruction” during the summer session, Beutner has said. He didn’t provide any further details on Monday about the program or how many students may participate. District spokeswoman Barbara Jones said LA Unified currently has no additional information about the intensive instruction.
Meanwhile, all students in the district will be offered grade level math and reading classes.
They will also have the option of taking new, “entertaining” classes being offered through the district’s newly formed partnerships with film studios, actors and sports teams, among others, Beutner said. The classes will tie in math and reading components and will “take advantage of the tools, technology and online connection every student now has,” Beutner said.
In a class being held in partnership with Illumination Entertainment, the creators of Despicable Me and The Minions, students will learn to draw, animate and create their own animated films.
High schoolers will be able to take a “Voyage of the Titanic” with James Cameron, the director of “Titanic,” and learn about the “biology and physics of the deep ocean,” Beutner said.
Students will also be able to learn about astronomy and space technology in a course being offered in partnership with the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a science museum in LA County.
The NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, meanwhile, will help lead a class on sports science, nutrition and medicine that will also include “practical advice on a healthy lifestyle,” Beutner said.
And for up to 1,500 middle school students interested in learning to play the guitar or ukulele, they’ll have that opportunity in a class being taught in partnership with the Fender Guitar Company, a guitar manufacturer.
In each of those courses, the materials needed for participation such as guitars will be provided to students at no cost, Beutner said.
Beutner has said that providing the summer session will cost the district $103 million — $50 million more than they expected to spend on summer school instruction before the pandemic.
He has repeatedly asked state lawmakers for more funding but it’s not clear what the state will be able to offer. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration projected there will be a shortfall of $18 billion in revenue over two years for K-12 schools and community colleges.
Beutner pointed out Monday that the state provides more than 90% of LA Unified’s funding.
He urged state lawmakers to prioritize funding schools in upcoming budget deliberations, saying that “a good education is the path out of poverty for many of the students we serve and the promise of a better future for all of them.”
“As a state and as a nation, it’s time we find a way to do extraordinary things to make sure we deliver on the promise of a great education for every child in public schools,” he said.