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'Fun And Happy:' Some N.H. Elementary Schoolers Are Excited About Summer School

Iriana lopez (middle) reads to Steven Koehler (left) and other students in the Summer Learning Academy.
Sarah Gibson
Iriana Lopez (middle) reads to Steven Koehler (left) and other students in the Summer Learning Academy.

Summer school is underway in New Hampshire, and many districts say interest in their programs has never been higher. This year, hundreds of kids are enrolled in an intensified version of Manchester’s Summer Learning Academy.

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Manchester opted to extend the academy by two weeks and shifted from a half to a full day. It also partnered with local organizations to expand access to camps and other activities, largely with the help of federal COVID relief aid.

The Lopez family opted to stay remote for most of the past academic year because of concerns about COVID safety. With vaccinations now widely available, they are sending their two daughters to the free Summer Learning Academy at Wilson Elementary School.

Masks are required. So are temperature checks. But Iriana Lopez, 10, says hanging out with kids from different schools and age groups feels exciting.

“I'm learning new things and doing fun activities,” she says.

Iriana’s reading partner, Steven Koehler, is in summer school for the first time. He says the first day was nerve-wracking, but now he says he's happy to be around so many other kids.

The district now has a waitlist for its summer programs. It says its major limiting factor is staff; in spite of offering a $1,200 bonus to employees who work this summer, they’re still short-staffed.

Districts across the state are seeing similar trends. Laconia typically serves about 170 kids in its K-5 summer programs. This year that number is closer to 250. That district has also begun a “Learning Lab,” funded with federal COVID relief money, for students who were chronically absent and fell behind during the pandemic.

Schools and organizations are trying to help kids get back into academic shape this summer, but they say socializing and mental health are just as important. At Wilson Elementary School, that’s ten-year old Axel Ainslie’s major goal.

“This past year was a little overwhelming because of the whole COVID thing,” he says. “I’m hoping that [the] whole COVID stops, everybody gets along, and everybody [can] have fun and be happy!”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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