Benton Harbor offers outdoor, in-person summer school

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Summer school is in session for Benton Harbor and they’re not letting the pandemic keep kids from the much needed face-to-face learning — after being home for three months.

The “I’m a Tiger” summer school program was supposed to last just two weeks.

Students and teachers meeting under tents outdoors to get back to in-person learning as safely as possible.

But — the company supplying the tents, Taylor Rentals, then making a generous donation — extending the program for two more weeks.

“We’re paying for a few days of tents but we’re going have them up for four weeks,” said Lawanna Shelton, Chief of Schools.

All of the normal COVID-19 safety protocols are still being taken, plus, each student is provided with their own supplies and chair or mat to sit on so there’s no fear of cross contamination.

Students and teachers just have to pick a time slot on a Google Doc.

“They’re encouraged to work with three to five kids, usually no more than that, to sent an intent to do the summer school work that they were going do all along,” said Shelton. “But just to do it face-to-face and give some kids a little bit of fresh air.”

While the program is targeted for students who are falling behind, officials say its also become a great way to maintain reading and other skills during the summer.

“Summertime is where the achievement gap can widen amongst our peers so it’s very important to have that instruction ongoing and to do it as safe as possible,” said Dr. Andrae Townsel, Benton Harbor Schools superintendent.

As the district finalizes both in-person and virtual plans for an unusual year, they say they’re better equipped than they have been in years.

“At our school board meeting on Tuesday our board gave a vote of confidence to me for leading during the pandemic, so that was very surprising and very exciting,” said Townsel. “And we announced that we’re 100 percent fully staffed, we have zero vacancies and that has not happened in years. So right now, we have certified teachers in every subject area.”

During the school board meeting, Benton Harbor officials discussed where the state is on the governor’s back to school roadmap.

The state is still at phase 4, which puts schools on track to start the year with in-person classes. But just one drop down to phase 3 will send students and faculty back home for E-learning.

“We’re able to come back full tilt with traditional school, we’re ready to do that, but we always have a hybrid plan in place. We’re probably looking at instructional waves, with AM/PM schedules to keep our buildings half full where we can practice social distancing and have that second half of time in the schedule where students can work online,” said Townsel.

Students are also still able to take advantage of the free meal program the district is offering Monday through Friday through Aug. 21.


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