Roam the hallways at Moreno Elementary School in north Houston, and you might see some lions, tigers, or even a few bears.
That’s because the elementary school’s theme for summer school is Summer Safari, giving students the chance to see wild animals without ever leaving their classrooms.
Enrollment for summer school at Moreno has increased this year, as it has at schools across Houston Independent School District. Many students are attending to help close the learning gaps from the previous year’s obstacles. And for teachers, it is a chance to see students in their classrooms—some for the first time in-person.
“Normally I teach summer school to help close the gaps for the kids. This summer, it was really nice to see the kids come back in person,” Elizabeth Mulkins, Reading Lab Teacher at Moreno Elementary, said. “Some of them we’ve only seen virtually. To get to see who they are and see them in person is fun.”
For Mulkins, this year’s summer school is a welcome return to something “almost normal.” But, she says, it has still been a challenging year for all teachers.
“I’ve been teaching for ten years. But this year, everyone was a first-year teacher,” she said. “It was new for everyone. No one was prepared for it. It was incredibly hard, but everyone came out on top.”
Summer school gives students a chance to catch up on traditional classes, but it also provides them with programming—from community partners like Brighter Bites, the Houston Food Bank, or Young Audiences—that allow students to learn about everything from nutrition to the performing arts.
“It gives them all these enrichment opportunities that they wouldn’t normally get in the school year,” Mulkins said. “It’s so great to see the students react to these new experiences.”
Although summer school only lasts for a few short weeks, it is more important this year than ever. And for teachers like Mulkins, it’s a relief to finally have students back in the classroom.
“We are your counselor, we are your friend, we are your nurse, sometimes we’re your mom,” she said. “We are all of that and we have to teach you. I’m so glad they are here in the building where we can see them and build those relationships and see what they need.”