The Hartford Public School District is embracing the concept of blended learning.
“It’s not always every day in front of a teacher. Students can learn in different places,” said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Hartford Public Schools superintendent. “Saturday Academy quite frankly is a response, a direct response to what we heard from our students, our families, and our staff.”
Classes will take place in four district buildings across Hartford. Transportation and meals will be provided. The program, fully funded by federal Covid response money, is expected to cost a million dollars over the next three years.
Community organizations will help support the 30 Hartford staff members who’ve signed up to help run the academy.
“The academic portion will be led by Hartford Public Schools staff and supported by The Village staff in the classroom. After we finish those activities we then go into enrichment activities that will be led by village staff and supported by Hartford Public Schools staff,” said Aldwin Allen, of The Village for Family and Children.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” said Kelly Santana. “Anything to enhance the intelligence of our children and get the next generation to do better and farther than we as a generation did. Where we fell short they need to pick up. So, more education can’t hurt, right?”
Santana said her 3rd-grade grandson could benefit not just academically, but socially.
“The only time he spends with other kids is in school,” said Santana.
Beyond academics, the free program will offer extra-curricular activities, from art to athletics, which Tomoye Bryan said her son Zachary is looking forward to.
“He likes sports a lot and through the pandemic he didn’t get to go to none of those,” said Bryan.
Serena Dancy said her grandson, a fourth-grader in the district, spends enough time learning in the classroom and deserves a break.
“He needs his down time,” said Dancy. “He counts the days till the weekend as it is, so I won’t take that away from him.”
The program can accept 800 students. As of Wednesday, 400 had signed up. Kindergarten through second graders accounted for half the participants. Only 18 high school students were enrolled.
Chronic absenteeism reached nearly 45% during the last school year and is still high at 36%. Though the academy is open to all students, Torres-Rodriguez said the district is reaching out to those who disengaged from learning during the pandemic and have fallen behind as well as those who need extra emotional support.
“There was so much trauma, and loss, and job loss, and loss of loved ones and you know you continue to overlay that. We have to think about how that is going to show up for students,” she said.
However, reaching them is a challenge. Torres-Rodriguez said the district is reaching out to families directly to figure out the barriers that are impeding their children’s learning.
“We know that they’re just not going to show up at the door,” she said.
Torres-Rodriguez said the pandemic is manifesting itself in the classroom both in the students' behavior and learning across all grade levels. She compared returning to the classroom after the pandemic to the adjustment students must make after a school break, but multiplied by many months.
The district is also making plans to offer night school to high school students this winter. Torres-Rodriguez says the courses will be geared toward students who have had to get a job to help support their families during the pandemic.