SIOUX CITY | While Iowa legislators continue to debate school start dates, some local agencies are brainstorming options to extend summer programs and offer additional resources in case classes start later in the summer than in the past.

Cheryl Connot-Perez, Iowa State University Extension youth program specialist at Midtown Community Center in Sioux City, knows the importance of student engagement during the summer. Approximately 300 kids participate in various camps each summer, she said.

She said Extension summer camps are a valuable asset to working parents, which is why legislation for a mandatory start date of no earlier than Aug. 23 has caused some concern.

“This summer would be a long period of time for kids to be out of school,” she said. “It will result in a larger learning loss for those kids that don’t do anything.”

The Iowa Senate on March 10 voted to allow school districts to determine when classes begin.

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would require school districts to start classes no earlier than Aug. 23.

Connot-Perez said Extension has considered offering at least two additional weeks. Ten weeks of camp geared toward STEM and healthy living, she said, start June 1 and end August 14 – a week before school typically starts.

She said students can use that extra time to continue to learn and stay sharp before school begins.

“Kids would still have the opportunity to do positive things,” she said. “Two or three weeks would be a lot of time to fill if they move the date.”

Connot-Perez said Extension has not made a decision yet, but she is keeping an eye on discussions and will be ready should legislators bump back the start date.

“We have a lot of wonderful learning curriculum … we can pull together quickly,” she said. “It wouldn’t be a problem for us.”

Beyond the Bell in Sioux City is facing a similar dilemma. The kindergarten through eighth-grade program provides a six-week camp from June 15 to July 24 for approximately 500 to 600 kids.

Director of middle school programs Tyler Nelson said the agency is mapping out a plan should start dates be later. He said early plans include offering an additional two-week session.

Nelson said he has heard some feedback from parents, but most say a later date is something to which they would have to adjust. However, Nelson said Beyond the Bell is working to ensure parents and kids have as much access to their summer program as possible.

“We’re trying to find a way to better serve all the families we are currently serving,” he said. “We know that it can be difficult from the time our program ends to the time school starts for parents who have a limited amount of time to find child care.”

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