Westminster makes changes to summer programs amid COVID pandemic

Summer programs have been an integral part of Westminster’s mission to educate students since their establishment in 1954. Each spring, hundreds of students from the greater Atlanta area register for Westminster’s summer school courses to receive course credits, learn extra material, and pursue new areas of interest during the summer months. The program is especially helpful for students who require extra time during the school year to participate in sports and other extracurricular commitments. 

“I’m really looking forward to summer school,” said freshman Srija Kasturi, who will be taking the AP Computer Science Principles course this year. “One reason why I’m taking [the course] is so that I can get more AP credits. Also, I find computer science interesting, and it’s a field that I want to pursue further.”

Registration for Westminster’s summer school program opens around the beginning of March, and placements are finalized toward the end of April. All course requests go through the summer school registrar, Grace Malave, who assigns students to the classes they applied to.

“On my end as the registrar, I create the summer school course, enter the schedule for it as far as date and time, and put the cost of the course on the website,” said Malave. “I also put a course maximum because we are only allowed to have a certain amount of students per teacher. At some point, when the class fills up, it starts the waitlist for applicants.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the summer school program has had to make some adjustments to the way courses are run. 

“We’ve been changing things slowly year after year,” said Kristen Orsini, the current director of the summer school. “Last year, we were fully virtual, so that precipitated some of the changes that we have this year.”

Orsini said that she had been wanting to experiment with virtual summer school classes even before the pandemic, and going virtual last summer convinced her that the idea was feasible. This year, Westminster is offering two summer school sessions for Upper School students, with Session I being fully in-person and Session II being fully virtual. 

“[Virtual summer school courses] have been a very popular format this year since it allows more flexibility for students and parents,” said Orsini.

Along with the changes in structure, new classes are being added as options for summer courses. For the first time, AP Art History will be offered taught by Julie Pace, an Upper School history teacher. Art History is not a course that is available during the regular school year. Additionally, Westminster has added four more courses to the summer school program to help students better prepare for advanced courses.

“Last year, we offered an on-campus Getting Ready for Honors Precalculus program,” said Malave. “Due to the success of that program, we’re offering four Getting Ready courses this year.”

Summer school teachers also noted changes to the program’s curriculum this year. Jake Kazlow, who teaches AP Computer Science Principles during the school year and over the summer, said that the pandemic has limited some aspects of summer learning at Westminster.

“Typically, we would go on field trips to local areas or have guest speakers come in,” said Kazlow. “But during COVID, we can’t go anywhere or have anyone come in.”

Kazlow also noted that teaching in-person summer school classes again will be a big improvement from last year’s fully virtual classes.

“Never meeting any of the students in person was tough last year,” said Kazlow. “At least this year we’ll be in person for the AP Computer Science Principles course. We’ll be able to cover more material, and we’ll try to make it as similar to a normal experience as possible.”

Students participating in the upcoming summer school program will be expected to adhere to Westminster’s standard COVID-19 protocols, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Administrators are currently re-examining other aspects of the protocol in compliance with newly updated CDC guidelines.

“Summer school tries to be the transition to the next school year,” said Orsini. “Not all of the new protocols have been fully established yet, but one change we will be making is that we’re not going to have COVID testing on campus [during summer school]. This is all very tentative, but I believe that we will be slowly phasing out the testing program at Westminster.”

Even with the continuously changing circumstances of the pandemic, Westminster’s summer programs will continue to make positive impacts on student lives, whether they are on campus or on Zoom.

“Summer school is an amazing opportunity for students to learn and grow,” said Kasturi. “For me personally, I can’t wait to come on campus, see my friends, and pursue my passions.”