Summer is right around the corner, and while many students are looking forward to a three-month break from the school grind, others are getting prepped for the summer semester. Here's everything parents need to know about summer school.

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Summer school may sound like the worst possible way to spend your three-month vacation, but there are many reasons a student might consider attending. A few biggies? To retake a difficult class, get an early start on college courses, or enroll in specialized programs not available during the regular school year. And although summer school might look different in 2021, thanks to virtual schooling and the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts are finding ways to make it work.

Enrolling in summer school isn't for everyone, but if your student needs an academic boost or wants to get ahead of the game, it can be a great opportunity to encourage learning, engage with peers, and prepare for the year ahead. Consider this a crash course for a successful summer semester.

Why Do Students Enroll in Summer School?

Summer semester can serve different purposes for different people. If a student struggled in a trigonometry class and wants to boost their grade point average (GPA), retaking that class over the summer lets them focus solely on trig—instead trying to juggle trig with five or six other classes. According to Debra Chester Ph.D., academic coordinator for Walden University's B.S./M.S. Instructional Design and Technology program, summer school allows students to "take individual classes they need for credit, as well as post-tests to see if they have passed the courses for placement in the upcoming school year. If the summer school courses are online, students take an assessment upon completion of their course."

Other students may want to get a head start on college or accrue the credits necessary for graduating high school early. For students interested in a specific area of study, enrolling in summer classes might allow them to take programs not typically offered during fall and spring semesters.

How Long is Summer School?

Summer school classes generally start in June and continue through August, with some districts offering multiple sessions per summer term. Because summer semester is typically shorter than a normal semester, class periods are longer and more intensive than during the regular school year. What might have been a 45-minute English literature class in the fall becomes a two, three, or even five-hour English literature class in the summer.

That said, it's important that students set a summer school schedule to allow for breaks. A multi-hour class followed by daily study sessions can be a heavy load to carry—and without adequate time to rest and re-energize, you're asking for burnout. This is especially true if students enroll in more than one summer class at a time.

What Should I Know About Summer School Programs?

If your student doesn't need to make up missed credits or improve their GPA, but they're still interested in summer learning, they'll likely have plenty of opportunities. For starters, programs offered through school districts can teach new skills or specialties. Also, many districts partner with local colleges to let high school juniors and seniors enroll in campus-based classes for college credit, and colleges nationwide provide opportunities for pre-college students to experience university life by enrolling in specialized programs.

Can My Child Take Summer School Classes Online?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have moved their summer school offerings to the virtual world. After months of navigating online schooling during the regular school year, your child should be familiar with remote learning, making for an easy transition.

"Due to COVID-19, some summer school programs will be offered online this year while traditional programs may require students to wear masks and social distance," explains Dr. Chester. "Online summer school programs have provided their students with laptops and tablets to accommodate for the courses. Schools that do not yet have online summer school programs will likely make plans to offer them soon."

Online resources, such as K12 and Connections Academy—which provide free, online public school options—are also a great choice for students who want to catch up or get ahead from the comfort of home. Check out their websites to see if they have classes available for your district.