Should I go to summer school

Summer school - or a school as it could be

Werner Marek is actually not a person who can be easily disturbed - but he is currently under stress. It's already a quarter past eight, and crowds are still gathering in front of the school gate of the elementary school Vorgartenstrasse 208 in Vienna's 2nd district. Parents look for the names of their children on a board, everyone has questions, some have forgotten their confirmation of attendance, others are in front of the wrong school. "I have about twenty students here who are not on the list," says Marek. Usually the teacher teaches at another elementary school in Vienna, but on this hot Monday in August he voluntarily ended his vacation two weeks earlier and is now the head of the summer school here at the second.

Suddenly a teacher

What takes place here is an experiment - and like all experiments, of course, this does not run smoothly right away. Almost a quarter of the school year for children and young people was lost due to the corona lockdown. It is feared that the lesson-free time has led to considerable learning delays. This should be absorbed by summer schools. Therefore, for the first time, remedial classes with a focus on German are taking place at 500 selected elementary schools, new middle schools and lower AHS schools throughout Austria. In Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland, the first week is already over. The remaining federal states start next Monday. 24,000 children and young people with a lot of catching up to do have registered.

Werner Marek rubs his forehead. He goes through the attendance lists. 60 out of 160 registered students did not show up, he will call them through on Monday. With success: almost everyone is there the next day. Some simply forgot to start school or wrote down the wrong address.

"During the school closings, a number of children fell by the wayside, many had no computer or printer at home," says Hannah Debono, who studies teaching and gives tutoring to children with learning difficulties. The 25-year-old signed up as a teacher for the summer school because she felt sorry for the children. And because she thinks the project is good. After studying for five semesters, she is now teaching 17 children between the ages of nine and ten in the summer school - all by herself.

Hardly any budget

It was originally planned differently: the 1,400 students who registered as summer school teachers were to teach in pairs or in tandem with a teacher. Due to the high demand and the shortage of staff, this was not possible everywhere. "It wasn't until mid-July that I was presented with a fait accompli," says Debono. She doesn't get any money for the two weeks, she can only get five ECTS points for her studies.

Not only are the teachers new to the children during these two weeks, the classmates too, many of them come from different schools. First of all, getting to know each other through play is on the program: Who am I? Where do I come from? What are my hobbies? The children are happy to be in school, you can see that. It was really boring at home, says a girl sitting in the circle.

Lessons take place from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. - but cannot be compared to regular school lessons. There is no homework or tests. Instead, project work in small groups is on the program: a video, a poster or a play. A budget of 2.70 euros per student was approved for this in Vienna. A ridiculous amount, criticized one of the teachers. It is typical that no more money is made available for such an important project. The teachers and students have therefore bought painting materials themselves and made things at home. "This shows the commitment of every individual who takes part here," says Marek, who as a summer school director earns only 250 euros himself. "The colleagues are here because they like the children."

Then he shows a self-made card with a quote on it: "The teacher sprinkles the seeds for plants of knowledge, which grow, bloom and bear fruit for a lifetime." He gave the saying to his summer school colleagues on the first day. To convey that their work is important.

New teacher image

In the Europa-Sport-Mittelschule (ESM) in Mödling, too, the summer school project thrives on the commitment of the teachers. "We didn't get one euro for project material," says the director, Silvia Kandler. But that doesn't upset her. At least not anymore. After all, as a teacher you have long been used to paying for additional teaching material out of your own pocket.

Kandler wants to prove something here: "We teachers are always portrayed as the lazy ones who only go on vacation anyway." That annoys them immensely. The lockdown was associated with an insane amount of work. E-learning, preparing documents, collecting documents, sending documents back. In addition, all-day availability for concerned parents. Of course, some would not have been so committed. But black sheep are always reported louder than those who do their best. She sees the summer school as a great way to improve the teachers' image.

One of the teachers tore a cruciate ligament three days before school started. She came anyway, with crutches. "I didn't want to let the children and my colleagues down," says Ursula Wimmer. In tandem lessons with a student, that's no problem either. "It doesn't matter whether I'm at home or at school." She enjoys lessons with only ten students: "That would be the ideal situation. In small, homogeneous groups, the children really get the support they deserve." What she thinks is a shame: that there is such a great offer only for German and not also for other subjects such as math. Lots of parents asked about it, she says. And were disappointed because there is no "free tuition during the holidays" for their children.

Education Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) comments on this cautiously: "We are looking at how the summer school is going this year. The evaluation of the project will show whether we will continue the summer school in the coming years and, if necessary, expand it to other subjects. "

Starting advantage

What stands out: The summer school teaching staff in Mödling consists exclusively of women. Right in the middle: Kim Lercher, 17, now in high school, three years ago herself a student at EMS Mödling. She is at the side of younger students as a "buddy" and is a contact person at eye level. And foregoing the rest of the summer vacation. "Classes only take place in the morning," she says. Kim switches back and forth between the four groups during class, answering questions and supervising when a teacher has to go to the bathroom. "I don't really want to be a teacher," says Kim. "I just think it's the right thing to do here."

Of the 46 students currently being taught in Mödling, not all have a migration background. Many of them are Austrians who want to improve their German. "This is not just a care program," emphasizes summer school director Silvia Kandler. There are reading exercises, dictations, grammar exercises, but also time for games in between. Language, in particular, can be learned most quickly in a game. To this end, the teachers and students in the team have come up with projects. At the end of the day, one group wants to create an application folder, the other presents a book of fairy tales.

Can the children really improve their German language skills in the two weeks? In Mödling you are sure that it can work.

In the Viennese elementary school, the teachers are more skeptical. In two weeks with a motley bunch of children with rudimentary knowledge of German to catch up on what has been missed in the last few months? That doesn't work out.

Here you want to achieve something different: The children should slide into the new school year with a positive feeling - possibly with the image that school can be something beautiful. Summer schools may offer something that often falls by the wayside for the rest of the year: learning to be fun without any pressure.

The summer school is giving those children who have lacked a lot of support in the last six months, something: two weeks extra time to get back into the school rhythm - and into the German language. Student teacher Hannah Debono: "We give the children preparation for a race. By doing a few warm-up exercises and running the first lap." In the best case, this will give you a head start. (Nadja Kupsa, August 28, 2020)