Summer Rising, the city’s free summer school program, kicked off on Tuesday morning with over 200,000 students returning to classrooms, according to preliminary data from the Department of Education.
On July 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter celebrated the program’s launch by welcoming students and families at P.S. 6 the Norma Adams Clemons Academy in Flatbush. Many of the families lining up in the morning were excited that their children would finally have a chance to interact with classmates and teachers after months of attending school virtually.
Students at P.S. 6 spent their morning with reading and writing workshops and spent the afternoon taking part in extra curricular activities like music, theater and art classes or playing sports. Students enrolled in Summer Rising begin their days at 8: 00 a.m. and are dismissed at 4:00 p.m.
Although Summer Rising took off smoothly at P.S. 6, which is currently serving 296 children, that wasn’t the case at all of the 800 sites across the five boroughs taking part in the program. Sunshine Abuyen, a public school mother from Oakland Gardens in Queens, described the scene outside of her 10-year-old daughter’s assigned Summer Rising site, P.S. 376 in Bayside, as chaotic with administrators scrambling to handle the dozens of parents dropping off their children.
“It was very unorganized,” Abuyen told amNewYork Metro.”There was no order.” The lack of organization Abuyen witnessed Tuesday morning is in keeping with a pattern. Parents have complained for weeks about the program’s confusing enrollment process and lack of communication from the Department of Education.
Earlier this summer, interested parents were instructed to visit the DOE’s website and select a school of their choice offering Summer Rising and wait for an email from the department saying where their children had been assigned. Many families waited for weeks without word from the DOE and some had their children assigned to schools in far away districts.
One Queens mother did not receive her child’s assigned school until the day before Summer Rising’s start and multiple parents told amNewYork Metro they did not receive emails from their child’s school with a room assignment until 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Parents of students with disabilities worried for weeks that their children would be cut out of the free summer school classes due to the DOE’s silence on transportation to and from the program. The city normally buses thousands of public school students with disabilities to and from school. The department waited until a week before the programs to offer families of students with disabilities travel reimbursements to and from Summer Rising sites.
Principals and community-based organizations providing Summer Rising’s extracurricular activities have also been thrown for a loop throughout the lead up to Summer Rising. Last week, Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter sent an email to principals informing them that they should prepare to serve all students interested in attending their site which sent administrators scrambling to solve spacing issues and staffing shortages during the 4th of July weekend.
“This entire issue could have and should have been avoided months ago,” said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the city’s principal union. Cannizzaro told amNewYork Metro union representatives explained to the DOE earlier this year that CBOs had certain capacity limits for students this summer. As a result, some schools might not have enough staff to properly organize and socially distance students in schools, Cannizzaro said.
De Blasio addressed the program’s bumpy start in a press conference on Tuesday. “This has never been done before in this city. It’s the biggest effort we’ve seen for a summer in this city and exactly the right time for it,” de Blasio said. “So, you’re always going to have some things that have to be worked out…we also saw a high level of demand and a lot of desire from parents…so we were really following the demand and making adjustments as we went along.”
Out of the roughly 200,000 students enrolled in Summer Rising, about 80,000 are high school students and another 86,000 are kindergarten through eighth-grade students. In addition, about 23,000 students in District 75, which serves the city’s most handicapped children, and extended school year students are enrolled in the summer school program, according to DOE data.
Additional reporting by Dean Moses.