Portland students could end the school year as soon as Friday, depending on whether they will participate in an early form of summer school aimed at helping those who need extra support or have fallen behind during remote learning.

Friday is the last day of regular instruction for the city’s 6,750 students, who have been learning remotely since mid-March. For the next two weeks, Portland Public Schools will offer a “Sun School” aimed at providing review and support for students who need additional help.

About one-third to two-thirds of students in the district will participate in the Sun School, while the remainder can take advantage of optional review and enrichment activities being offered by the district.

“During remote learning, some of the opportunity gaps we see have been exacerbated by the fact some kids are in situations where they don’t have parents who can support or help them or they don’t have a quiet place to work,” said Melea Nalli, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “There are many challenges, and we’ve been mindful of the fact the opportunity gap has been widening.”

Sun School will focus on small-group instruction and review of standards or tutoring, depending on the class and the needs of students. The two weeks also are designed to offset a lack of regular summer programming, which will be conducted remotely this year.

Meanwhile, activities for students who wish to continue learning include things like a middle school science project about how to protect yourself during a pandemic and articles students can read about the coronavirus and the science behind it, said Molly Myers, academic support and transition coordinator for Portland Public Schools.

It’s not clear yet how much ground students might have lost during remote learning, but Nalli said she doesn’t anticipate large numbers of students being unable to move into the next grade level. She said the district also is working to develop plans for when students do return to school and what kinds of support they will need.

Summer programming also will look different this year, with most programs either being canceled or modified for a remote environment.

At the elementary school level, the district is still participating in partnerships with Learning Works and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine, though those programs will be held remotely. A summer reading program that sends books home with students will continue to operate. However, other elementary school summer programming will not happen this year, Myers said.

The district is considering piloting an English language learner program for elementary students and will offer one for middle school students, she said.

Credit recovery for high school students will be limited to seniors and possibly juniors in order to keep classes smaller.

Meanwhile, the district will continue to serve breakfast and lunch at 11 meal sites throughout the district through June 12, the official last day of school.

After June 12, the district will no longer serve meals at Portland High School, Rowe Elementary or the East End Community School. The Peaks Island site will close after June 30 due to the expiration of a federal waiver allowing meals to be served there.

Jane McLucas, food service director for Portland Public Schools, said meal distribution will continue this summer at the seven other existing meal sites as well as community sites run through the Boys & Girls Club.

As long as there is demand, the district is planning to continue delivering school meals to families that are unable to access meal sites because of transportation, health or scheduling issues.

The delivery program started Tuesday and the district is currently delivering about 250 meals per day in addition to distributing about 800 meals per day at the pickup sites.

During the busiest point of the summer, Portland Public Schools typically serves about 500 meals per day, not counting meals served by community organizations like the Opportunity Alliance, which in the past has partnered with the district to help feed students over the summer.

McLucas said she wasn’t sure what to expect for demand this summer or if a lack of in-person summer programming will impact access to meals.

“We’re just going to roll with the punches and try to be there for the families and feed the community in the best way we can,” she said.

As the district prepares for the transition to summer, Nalli said teachers and administrators are trying to brainstorm ways to provide closure for students, even if it’s in small gestures like lawn signs for graduating seniors or videos a fifth-grade class is making to celebrate its entry into middle school.

“How do we provide closure and start to think about the transition to next year in ways that meet students where they’re at?” she said. “It’s been hard. This has been hard on teachers and hard on kids. We’re trying to think creatively about some of those closing rituals and to the extent we can, still do those things and make them feel special.”

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