Elementary schools in Kalamazoo, Mich., are luring students in on Saturdays with free McDonald’s lunches and a field trip to Michigan’s Adventure Park in hopes of improving math and reading scores.

Superintendent Darrin Slade announced the plan this week to bring students in every other Saturday during the winter, and every Saturday once it warms up, to offer students falling behind extra instructional time, Fox 17 reports.

“The focus of the Saturday school is to really help students catch up, who are behind in the areas of reading and math,” he said. “We’re kind of focusing on foundational skills.”

A 2023 analysis by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found declines in student test scores at Kalamazoo schools tied remote schooling during the pandemic have since rebounded some, but not to prepandemic levels.

Test data from the fall of 2022 shows less than half of the district’s elementary students could read at grade level, while it was less than 40% of students who tested proficient or better in math, MLive reports.

The Saturday school sessions will focus on helping third- through fifth-grade students improve those scores, a tactic Slade told the news site he’s used successfully in other districts in the past. Teachers will identify students in need of help and send home permission slips for parents to sign. While the sessions are not mandatory, they’re highly encouraged and Slade said there will be high expectations.

“We expect them to give 100%. We’re going to really push them to do their best; we will have rigorous instructional activities in place,” he said. “So I want students to master the skills identified at their grade level.”

“It’s not going to be like summer camp, I’m talking about hard work,” Slade told MLive. “The goal is to make sure that the students acquire the skills that they may not have yet before they finish school.”

For their efforts, the district will cater lunches from McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A and Burger King.

“It may not be the healthiest, but it’ll bring our students in,” Slade said.

The trip to Michigan’s Adventure – a water and roller coaster park in West Michigan – will be the reward for those with perfect attendance at the end of the year, he said.

Kalamazoo is not alone in utilizing the weekend to boost student learning in the wake of government-imposed school closures during the pandemic that put students in many districts a year or more behind.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who was elected to office with a focus on supporting parental involvement in education, recently launched an “ALL In” program with $418 million in funding for schools to offer tutoring and other resources aimed at reversing pandemic-era learning loss, the Danville Register & Bee reports.

The Danville school district will use $3.84 million of that funding over a three-year period on “multiple opportunities for our students to meet them where they are,” including Saturday school sessions that begin this month, Oliva McCraw, the district’s director of assessment and state reporting, told the news site.

Starting Jan. 20, the district will hold Saturday classes from 8 a.m. until noon through May 11, paying teachers $400 a day – or roughly $100 an hour.

The district sent invitations to 800 students to attend, based on attendance and academics, McCraw said. Like Kalamazoo, the Danville program will focus on math and reading skills.

“Obviously, we cannot mandate Saturday school, but we really emphasize the importance of this opportunity for students,” she said.