School District Uses COVID Cash To Fund A College Summer Camp

A California school district is utilizing COVID relief cash to fund a college summer camp program for students.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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college summer camp

During the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented relief funds were disbursed to Americans, cities, and public schools. Although this money was sent out to combat the negative effects of lockdowns and excessive health & safety protocols, there were virtually no limits set upon how the money should be spent. Now, one California school district is using its COVID cash to fund student enrollment in a college summer camp. 

Across the nation, Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSR) funds have been used for various purposes. While some schools have sought to update HVAC units to improve air quality in classrooms, other districts have utilized pandemic relief money to push identity politics on teachers and students. Some states have tapped into COVID education money to expand government-run child care programs and pay for everyday school supplies. While some parents see nothing wrong with this, others see it as a misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, and so many have grown so accustomed to the broad range of ESSR use that they support this new move to incorporate a portion of those funds for college summer camps. 

The Lodi Unified school district received $131 million in ESSR funding and has spent about half. As the money is set to expire after the fall of 2024, ensuring that it is well used has become quite a debacle for some schools, but the University of the Pacific has offered students a pre-college opportunity to spend two weeks experiencing dorm life and classes like 3-D animation, music production, and filmmaking. This opportunity is affording students a free college summer camp experience that enhances their interests in the arts. 

Each student’s participation costs $3,300. In an effort to give students positive learning experiences to combat the pandemics’ negative effects, the district created a lottery program to select students to attend this college summer camp. There was only a single qualification, they had to be enrolled in the Lodi Unified high school. 

240 students were selected to attend this year. Those selected have hailed the program as a “great experience,” and noted its rewards. The college summer camp is even offering eSports participation, which highly appeals to teens and can incorporate STEM skills with fun gaming play. 

Lodi Unified has enough funding left to keep this lottery going for the next two summers. It is expected to help students get back into the habit of socializing while learning through hands-on activities. What will happen to the college summer camp once funding runs out is uncertain, but being that it is paid for through ESSR funds, which were meant for COVID-19 pandemic relief, funding may be sought elsewhere. 

college summer camp

While many schools are allocating masses of ESSR funds for Critical Race Theory and “culturally responsive” training, Lodi Unified is seeking to bring students together through a love of art and exploration. The funding was not expressly given for that purpose, but parents and educators are noting the positive influence that time at the college summer camp is having on teens. If deemed successful enough, the program may be expanded and funded through other means in the future.