Summer school enrollment has skyrocketed. Experts say attendance is especially important this year.

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Children going back to school after epidemic, They are wearing a protective face mask
After a year of remote and disrupted learning, summer school enrollment is way up. (Photo: Getty Images)

Summer school enrollment has skyrocketed

Schools across the country are seeing a jump in summer school enrollment after a year of remote and disrupted learning. Some are even offering expanded summer school classes to try to meet the increased demand.

Montana's Billings Public Schools district is doing its biggest offering of summer school classes yet, superintendent Greg Upham tells Yahoo Life. The district plans to offer a six-week program for kindergarten through eighth-graders that will run for four hours a day, Monday through Thursday — and they've never offered summer school to this age group in the past. The district is also offering a high school summer program "for students needing credits to stay on track to graduate," he says.

The district currently has 858 students enrolled in kindergarten through fifth-grade classes, and 272 students in middle school classes, Upham says.

Heather Short, assistant superintendent of instruction at Indiana's Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, tells Yahoo Life that her district saw a "significant increase" in children enrolled in summer school — a roughly 20 percent jump from the past. "We invited more students than we have in the past to specifically target a larger population who may have been negatively impacted due to the pandemic," she says. Parents also seem more invested in the idea of summer school, Short says, noting that "more parents are interested in ensuring their children take advantage of the opportunity to work with our teachers in expanded offerings throughout the summer."

Other school systems across the country have reported dramatic summer school enrollment increases, including Alabama's Montgomery Public School district, which has more than 12,000 students registered, a record for the district. "We're extremely thrilled," Jade Jones, senior communication officer for Montgomery Public Schools, tells Yahoo Life. "This academic year was filled with several challenges and students across the country experienced learning loss. We're looking forward to welcoming our students into our buildings to review learning standards taught this previous academic year and prepare for the 2021-2022 academic year."

Florida's Martin County School District has also seen an increase in summer school enrollment, with about 2,500 students registered for kindergarten through 12th-grade programs, Jennifer DeShazo, the district's director of public information, tells Yahoo Life. "Our hope is that we will be able to address any learning loss or gaps that may exist for students and further set them up for success when the new school year begins in August," she says.

Experts say summer school is especially important for children this year. "Unfortunately, a lot of our kids are not at the learning levels at the end of this school year that we would like them to be at," Fisher says. "Summer school is an opportunity to catch up on missed learning."

Summer school also offers children a chance to socialize after more than a year of restricted living, Schreiber says. "Kids are desperate for social interaction now," he says. "This has been really tough for them and their development, learning and mental health."

Because the spread of COVID-19 is low in many communities, Schreiber says that school is "going to be safer this summer than it's been in many months."

Children who go to summer school will also "be much more prepared in the fall" than they would otherwise, Schreiber says.

Reading, PA - April 19: Christy Daniels gives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. During a CATE mobile COVID-19 Vaccine clinic setup in a parking lot on South 5th street in Reading Monday morning April 19, 2021 and run by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Latino Connection, the City of Reading, Highmark Blue Shield, and Penn State Health where they were giving doses of the Moderna vaccine. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
A shot is administered at a vaccine clinic run in collaboration with Penn State Health. The university is encouraging students to get vaccinated with a lottery incentive program. (Photo: Getty Images)

Penn State is offering weekly prizes — including $1,000 —to people who get vaccinated

Penn State officials announced this week that the school is launching an incentive program to encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated and share their vaccination status with the university.

From June 7 to August 23, students and employees who share proof of their vaccination status with the school will be eligible for a weekly drawing for prizes. Winnings include a $1,000 cash prize, four $100 gift cards to Barnes & Noble and a football signed by Penn State football coach James Franklin. Separate drawings will be held for students and employees.

To enter, students and staff need to show their proof of vaccination and fill out an online form to enter into the weekly drawing pool.

"We think an incentives-based approach offers the best way to encourage high rates of vaccination," Wyatt DuBois, assistant director of news and media relations at Penn State, tells Yahoo Life. "Penn State’s incentive program is clear, simple and straightforward, and we’ve made it easy to upload the proof of vaccination information."

So far, DuBois says, the program has been "well-received" on campus. "We have heard from many of our students who are excited at the prospect of winning a prize for doing something they would have done anyway because it’s the right thing to do," he says.

Incentives can be a helpful way to encourage students to get vaccinated, especially when cash is involved, infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. "For college students that don't have that much money, it will incentivize them to take action," he says.

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that vaccine incentives "can be very helpful" to people who are hesitant to get the vaccine.

"Most of these people need information, but it also may be difficult for them to get off of work or it's been inconvenient for them to get vaccinated," he says. "Vaccination just isn't on the top of their priority list, but if you incentivize them, it can become more important to them." Still, he says, these prizes won't work for everyone. "Hardcore anti-vaxxers are not going to get vaccinated, no matter what we do," Russo says.

receiving a vaccination
With the Pfizer vaccine approved for kids aged 12 and up, there are some programs bringing shots to schools. Here, a young girl gets her shot. (Photo: Getty Images)

New York City, Southern Nevada school districts are vaccinating kids 12 and up in school

Now that the COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for children aged 12 and up, some school districts are working hard to make them as accessible as possible for students. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that the city will be offering in-school COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible children.

The program starts on Friday at four middle schools in the Bronx, and will expand to more public schools in all five boroughs "in the coming days."

"We're going to focus particularly on middle schools where I think you're going to see a lot of parents wanting to see their kids vaccinated, and we're going to move to a number of schools," de Blasio said. However, he added, there are some logistics that are being worked out, like whether it makes sense to do vaccinations in a school over several days or just one day. "Our goal is to reach a lot of kids," he said. "This is a way of finding out the best approach and then applying it more broadly."

The Southern Nevada Health District also announced this week that it is starting its first round of school-based vaccine clinics at the state's Desert Pines High School as well as Sawyer, Swainston and Tarkanian middle schools. The district administered first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesday, and has scheduled second doses for June 22 and June 23.

"This is a fabulous idea," Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "School is where we're going to be able to vaccinate many kids who may not have other opportunities to get the vaccine."

Dr. John Schreiber, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children's, agrees. "If the parents approve of it, it's a great idea," he says. "You give access to the kids and are able to get more immunized."

Adalja says schools should consider offering this service for other vaccines, too. "You have a school nurse just sitting there a lot of times," he says. "This could help."

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.