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How to keep students engaged over the summer

  • Madison Schiefelbein
  • May 21, 2020

Keeping students engaged throughout the summer has always been a challenge. This year, it’s likely to be a bigger challenge than ever before

It has also never been more important. Here’s why:

Students across the nation experienced a tremendous loss of engagement and learning when school campuses were abruptly closed this spring. Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of learners stopped engaging altogether. Without a schedule to help them maintain academic rhythm, millions of others began the typical “slide into summer” early, staying up late, sleeping in, and slacking on schoolwork. In the face of so much upheaval in the world around them, many students simply had fewer immediate reasons to stay focused on schoolwork.

What this will mean, come the fall, is that many students who already need some help getting back into the swing of things will be even deeper into the sorts of struggles that are pervasive at the start of the school year.

What can educators do to mitigate these issues? Here are five strategies that we have seen that are already having an effect — and will continue to do so until school resumes.


  1. Create new opportunities to re-connect

    Many families and students are reporting that they do indeed want to engage, but they’re unclear what steps they need to take to do so — especially if the student has fallen behind. Some students and parents are worried they’ll be chastised or punished, even if the students’ disconnection was a clear result of this spring’s pandemic-initiated disruption. Now is the time to show them that their school is committed to them and their education. When you reach out to promote a newly created opportunity to take courses — fully online summer school, for instance — you’re creating organic opportunities for re-connection. That’s a two-bird-one-stone chance to stoke interaction with their school and help get them caught up, too.


  2. Offer chances to explore

    What sorts of classes might your students be interested in that, for whatever reason, you simply were not able to offer before? Now is the chance to make those classes happen! Would a class in sports marketing be intriguing to some of your students? Does one of your teachers have an expertise in classic cars that she would like to build a class around? Whether you work with a trusted partner or create something in-house, the time is right to get creative with the sorts of courses that make students say, “wait… they’re teaching what!?”


  3. Encourage acceleration

    While credit acceleration is a good option for students in some circumstances, some school leaders worry it can also come at a cost in terms of socialization, stress, and depth of learning. Today, however, we are hearing from school leaders who want to know more about how to help motivated students use this time to get ahead. These school leaders know that their faculty and staff will have a lot of extra work to do to help other students when school finally resumes, so providing a path to accelerated credit attainment this summer will help ensure greater bandwidth in the fall.


  4. Expand job certifications

    If you’re not regularly having conversations with teenagers about their future job prospects, you might be surprised to learn how much they know about likely economic trends. We’ve found that many students are very much aware that our nation may be facing a prolonged recession, and they’re already thinking about how this will impact their ability to find work. Remarkably, we find that it’s not just academically motivated students who are worried about this. Many students who had simply been planning to get a high school diploma and get right to work, and even some who had been toying with the idea of leaving school before graduating, are recognizing that their prospects aren’t as good now as they seemed just a few months ago. It may still be a struggle to convince these students to focus on core subjects during the summer, but we’re seeing a lot of interest in workskill certifications that can be earned over the summer and which students can immediately use to help better their opportunities in a contracted job market.


  5. Explore healthcare coursework

    People of all ages are looking for a way to help in this time of great need, and many are thinking about ways to become one of the heroes who are on the front lines of the fight to keep the pandemic at bay. This has resulted in renewed attention to healthcare professions, and we can attest that a lot of young people have become quite interested in online courses aimed at helping them get a foot in the door at hospitals, doctors’ offices, elder care centers, and other healthcare facilities. And especially when these courses offer academic credit toward high school graduation, they represent a huge “value added” proposition for students who are looking for a way to serve their country in a time of need.



Across the nation, Graduation Alliance partners with school districts, community colleges, government workforce agencies and other community organizations to provide flexible, supportive, and equitable education and career training opportunities, including original credit recovery and acceleration, dropout recovery, and workforce certifications in fields including healthcare and skilled trades. For more information, visit our On-Demand Educational Solutions page or reach out here.