A woman walks with students as they leave school wearing face masks on May 18 outside of Ignacio Zaragoza Elementary School in Dallas.

When planning for this year’s summer break, school districts face a dilemma.

Students, in many instances, need extra help. Teachers, on the other hand, need rest.

“It’s been a very hectic year,” said Trachelle Dearmore, prekindergarten teacher in Fort Worth. “We’ve had so many changes — teaching in-person, teaching virtual, some people doing a hybrid where they’re doing both. We’re tired.”

While thousands of teachers will continue to work through portions of their summer break, thousands more — including Dearmore — will not. Instead, they will take their — in some cases abbreviated — vacation breaks to “recharge their batteries.”

Stress was the most common reason for dissatisfaction with the profession before COVID-19, and, according to a recent survey by the RAND Corporation, the demands of teaching through the pandemic ratcheted up those stressors even higher for many educators.

Over the past 16 months, school was disrupted by the disjointed, ad hoc nature of virtual and in-person classes. Concerns of mounting learning losses have many districts calling for drastically expanded summer school, designed to tackle the “COVID slide.”

“Teachers have had the hardest year they’ve ever had,” said Lea Ann Schkade, the outgoing Director of Intervention in Garland ISD.

A different kind of year

Opening up summer learning for all grades, Fort Worth ISD — the area’s second-largest district with 77,000 students — is launching a revamped program striving to help students catch up after disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

“This has been a different kind of year, so we are taking a different kind of approach. We need all hands on deck this summer,” Superintendent Kent P. Scribner said in an email.

Instead of only helping students who might be behind in their classes, the district wants to rebrand summer school into helping all students “accelerate” so that they’re better prepared for the next term, said David Saenz, chief of innovation at FWISD.

As of Thursday, the district had 7,688 students and 688 teacher applicants for its summer programs, Saenz said. It’s poised to be the district’s largest in-person summer school yet — almost double the size of its last program before the pandemic.

But the expansion will come in the middle of an already shortened summer break.

As with Dallas ISD, Fort Worth pushed back the start of the 2020-21 school year as long as it could, thereby pushing back its final day of classes. The last day of school for Fort Worth and Dallas is June 18. The majority of the campuses in those districts will resume instruction on Aug. 16.

So, Fort Worth’s month-long summer program — which will run from June 23 through July 22 — will leave participating teachers with just over a couple of weeks off.

To encourage teachers to take part in the district’s summer program, FWISD is offering them — as well as other staff members — a $1,000 stipend on top of their usual compensation.

“They are giving up their time during the summer and, in fact, they’ll have less time on their own to just be relaxed after a long, long year,” said Saenz, adding that summer school teachers are only expected to work a half day with no classes on Fridays.

Dallas ISD — the area’s largest district with 145,000 students — opted not to greatly expand its offerings this summer.

Instead, the district surveyed elementary and middle-school teachers, families and community members on their interest in moving to an intersession calendar, adding five weeks of instruction spread out across the upcoming school year. Based on the surveys, 41 schools — about a fifth of the district’s elementary and middle schools — will take part and start school on Aug. 9.

An intersession calendar was adopted districtwide in Garland ISD last summer.

All of its 72 campuses will hold eight additional half-days of instruction during a “summer intersession” starting June 14. The focus of the extra class time will be on math and literacy, as well as end-of-course testing and college readiness for older students, said Schkade, who is retiring this summer after 35 years in Garland.

Approximately 12,000 of Garland’s 54,000 students are expected to take part, as are nearly 1,200 teachers. Schkade said that campus administrators were given the responsibility to recruit staff members to work the extra days. Once staff levels were set, special invitations were sent out to some students and families, although any student is eligible to attend, she said.

Garland also bumped its summer school pay rate from $30 to $40 per hour as an added incentive.

“[Staffing] is a hard thing to balance, but it’s just worked out,” Schkade said. “I’m so proud of the turnout, because people are tiiiiiirrrrreeeeed.”

What drew teachers, she added, was the premium placed on having fun and being creative with lesson plans during the intersession days.

“The engagement piece of it is what gets our teachers excited, and our students excited to learn, otherwise, they’re just not going to show up.”

Kelli Mabra, who teaches math at Garland’s Hudson Middle School said she fell in love with the intersession calendar while working those extra days in October and March. With class sizes capped at 15 students, she could personalize instruction and offer students “something that’s very meaningful to them,” she said.

In addition to lessons in geometry, fractions and decimals, Mabra is planning a scavenger hunt for her group of incoming sixth-graders, giving them vocabulary words that will be hidden around the school. The hunt will give the students a better understanding of their new campus while introducing algebraic concepts.

“It’s going to be hands-on, and so much fun, I can’t wait,” Mabra said.

‘I need this rest’

Regardless of the extra pay or additional freedom, some teachers just needed a break.

Steven Poole, the United Educators Association’s executive director, said that for many teachers, the thought of extending the school year by teaching summer school is “a lot,” so his teacher’s group is making sure teachers know they are free to opt out.

“We’re sending the message out to our members that it is perfectly okay for them to take time for themselves this summer to recharge their batteries because they’re gonna have to give their fullest again next school year,” Poole said.

While she understands that districts want to make up for the learning losses caused by the pandemic, Dearmore said teachers, parents and children are too burned out at the moment to not take a break.

“There’s no amount of money at this point” that would motivate her to take a month off of her summer for work, said Dearmore, who teaches at FWISD’s Lowery Road Elementary School.

“I need this rest. Doing the summer program would have upped my income considerably since I’m close to retirement, but it’s worth it to me to have the rest.”

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