Kids participate in Chollas-Meade Elementary’s summer learning program in 2016. / Photo by Dustin Michelson
Kids participate in Chollas-Meade Elementary’s summer learning program in 2016. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Don’t call it a summer school.

“We’re calling it a summer experience, because it’s going to be summer school like no other before,” said former San Diego Unified superintendent Cindy Marten, during her confirmation hearing in March to become deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Children in San Diego wouldn’t just be doing rote academic catch-up, she said. They’d be going to the beach and museums and surf and ballet camp.

The implicit understanding is that these post-pandemic programs would be available to all.

But some parents are now saying they can’t access all of the enrichment programs for their kids.

The idea behind the summer experience – now with even more hype in the title: “Level up SD: a summer of joy and learning” – is that students would get both academics and enrichment.

As NBC 7 put it: “In the mornings, students can go to their neighborhood schools with their teachers and have in-person instruction. In the afternoons, they will be able to choose from several enrichment programs, including performing and musical arts, outdoor experiences, sports” and science and technology programs.

It’s these afternoon enrichment programs – think of them as summer camp – that some parents say they can’t get their children into.

The afternoon enrichment programs are being run by local nonprofit groups that have partnered with the district. They aren’t at every single school and they have limited space.

It’s normal for school districts to offer summer camps like these, and those tend to always have limited space. But many parents have been led to believe the summer experience will provide amazing opportunities to all children. Instead, some are finding they can’t sign up for programs at all or would need to shuttle their child between schools in the middle of the day.

“Open to all students until all spots are filled. The way this is set up, it’s impossible for all students to benefit. It never should have been advertised as a program for every student,” one parent wrote in a Facebook post on the page of a group called Reopen SDUSD, which has been critical of San Diego Unified leadership.

Several parents noted that they tried to sign up for multiple programs only to be told they had been put on a waiting list.

“I couldn’t get into any,” wrote one parent.

“Same … They are all full,” wrote another.

But not all parents were dissatisfied. One parent said they had a positive experience getting information and getting into the camps they wanted.

“We received emails regarding every camp that we showed interest in and got into all of them except for one,” the parent wrote.

Another complaint had to do with the fact that “Level Up” is broken into two parts. In the mornings, kids can attend their neighborhood school to focus on academic learning with a teacher. All schools have a morning program. But not all schools have an afternoon enrichment program. And so some parents would have to pick up their child mid-morning from their neighborhood school to take them to a summer camp somewhere else.

“Working parents are getting screwed once again because if I have to pick up my kid from the school they are doing summer school in and have to drive them across San Diego to a fun free camp … Well … I should once again [quit] my job and be a driver,” one wrote.

The same parent who got into all of the enrichment programs except for one, however, said she found several programs that ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or even 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

It’s true that district-adjacent summer camps always have limited availability. But the parents’ comments illustrate an important point: Many believed the summer experience would be the kind of robust program that could begin to make up for more than a year out of the classroom – but for at least some students that is likely not to be the case.

What We’re Writing

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

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