Never before in the Long Beach Unified School District’s history has the summer been so busy.

A combination of factors led by the yearlong COVID-19 shutdown has spurred massive enrollment in the district’s Supports, Enrichment and Accelerated Learning program, abbreviated as SEAL, which runs over the summer.

The LBUSD has 14,351 students enrolled in either SEAL or traditional high school credit recovery programs, more than 20% of LBUSD students. Compare that to the 5,433 students in traditional summer school in 2018, or the 8,663 in 2019 after the district first introduced SEAL, and it’s obvious that this year is unique (there were very limited in-person summer programs in 2020 due to the pandemic).

“The reality is that our summer program this year, the number of students enrolled is larger than many school districts in the state of California,” said Brian Moskovitz, the LBUSD’s assistant superintendent over early learning and elementary schools, and one of the administrators running the SEAL program.

Indeed, the enrollment of over 14,000 students would put just the summer program in the top 10% of the largest school districts in the state. Moskovitz said that in 2019, the district applied surplus funding toward SEAL in an effort to transform the negative connotations around “summer school” into a summer program that actually attracted students.

“We’ve always had a summer school program in different iterations,” he said. “But summer school always had a reputation of remediation. Two summers ago we started SEAL as a summer program that included enrichment and that was available to general education students, bringing in some cool enrichment programs so that it wasn’t just for students who needed remedial support.”

That change led to a jump in enrollment, with parents attracted by a wider class range than just “catch-up” math and English. The SEAL program offers reading, writing, math, science, poetry, drawing, painting and dual-immersion language instruction. Moskovitz said that a lot of people in the district have been excited about the SEAL program, which spans multiple different-level offices within the administration.

Because of learning loss associated with COVID-19 shutdowns—as well as social isolation experienced by many students—he said the district really attacked this summer as a way to start turning things around before fall.

“Knowing that we would be able to provide an in-person program, and what learning has been like over the last 18 months, we were intentional about building a robust program,” he said. “We have a full art program for example that’s grounded in social-emotional learning.”

The SEAL program isn’t just serving to help catch up students who may have fallen behind over the last school year, it’s also serving as the re-introduction to in-person learning for many students. Moskovitz said that finalized numbers weren’t yet available, but that a “sizable” portion of the summer enrollment included students who did not return for in-person learning in the spring.

“For many of our students, this is the on-ramp back to in-person learning,” he said.

There will be a lot of attention paid to the LBUSD’s reopening when the new school year starts at the end of August, with campuses reopened to full capacity for the first time since COVID-19 closed them in March of 2020. But a lot of students are getting their first taste of campus life in 15 months this summer because of SEAL—and are also being integrated back into school routines with SEAL programs that will be used again in the fall.

Even for those students who attended school in the spring, many of them were only in-person for half the day or every other day. The SEAL program is much closer to the regular school schedule students will see in the fall.

“Our plan is, we’re fully prepared to reopen with all in-person learning this fall,” said Moskovitz. “We recognize in those first weeks if you have 20-25 kids back in the classroom, we’re going to have to help people transfer back in, building routines and community, and allowing students who haven’t done SEAL to do some of that.”

Moskovitz said he’s been in several classrooms over the last few weeks that the program has been running, and he’s seen first-hand what that transition has been like for students. Normal art programs like creating a family shield are helping with the social-emotional learning goals of helping students re-integrate, as young students use their depictions of family life to express what their family has been through over the last year.

“With the social-emotional learning we’re trying to make sure they have ways to express themselves if they’re frustrated and give them an opportunity to express their identities and share about themselves,” he said.

Moskovitz, whose job focuses him on the district’s youngest students, also said he’s been blown away by how quickly kids have bounced back in classrooms he’s visited.

“The students are incredibly well-behaved and engaged. You wouldn’t notice from surface behaviors that they’ve been out of school for a year and a half,” he said. “They’re resilient.”

After a dark year, LBUSD hopes for full-day, in-person classes next year