New approach to summer school generates a lot of student interest

Children had so much fun at summer school this year that one kid said one of the days at school was "the best day of his life."

Goals of the 2009 summer academy included "creating opportunities for extended learning and to meet the academic needs of all students including upper level students and kids who are looking for something else to do over the summer but who don't need the enrichment," summer academy administrator Keith Hoffman said.

Summer school included at lot of hands-on learning. It was also theme-based this year, which was new, Hoffman informed the USD-379 school board Wednesday.

Children at Lincoln Elementary have a choice between a class on disasters, Technical Tiger Tots, All American Kids, Keeping Cool in Summer School, Summer Safari, and The Amazing Race. Keeping Cool at Summer School included how to make home-made ice cream. All American Kids had a patriotic theme, and The Amazing Race was like a scavenger hunt. Some classes took field trips, to include the zoo and another to Ray's Apple Market to learn about the fruits that make up a fruit salad.

"I tried to stick around while they were making the ice cream, but it didn't quite work out," Hoffman joked.

"I like the idea of using a theme-based approach," Keeping Cool instructor Kelli Culbertson said in her summary of the class for first- and second-graders. "I feel the students enjoyed the variety of keeping cool lessons and perhaps did not realize that they were even working, because the they were engaged the entire time. Often the students would say, 'What? It's time to leave already?'"

The Summer Safari Class went on a bug hunt on school grounds and took home bug boxes to capture bugs over the weekend. Students received prizes for the most insects caught, as well as the largest insect captured.

"The children were very excited to show everyone their insect collections, and one even caught a tree frog as a bonus," instructors Tanna Richter and Shelly Bradford said in a synopsis of the kindergarten and first-grade class.

The disasters class spent the three weeks on three disasters in history -

The Titanic, the volcano that buried Pompeii and a small town flood where a girl risked her life to stop a train from crossing a broken bridge.

"We feel like this way of doing summer school works better than the previous way of doing summer school," disasters teachers Pat James and Delanie Burch said in the class synopsis. "Students took ownership in choosing the theme they wanted to participate in.

"We had excellent attendance and the students were eager to be there," they said. "We even had comments from parents on how much their child liked coming to summer school."

Garfield Elementary used mathematics and made measurement in its "Racing to Success" theme, where students used matchbox cars as part of the exercise. Longford Elementary planned a vacation from what they would do to what it would cost and wrote about it. An elementary class at Wakefield taught about counting money.

"Teachers spent a lot of time on this," Hoffman said.

Theme-based learning worked so well that teachers want to continue it next year, Hoffman said.

Upper grades including CCCMS, CCCHS and junior and senior high at Wakefield, focused on credit recovery, particularly in the areas of math and reading. Staff at CCCHS and CCCMS were expanded from one at each to two and a half.

The high school summer instructors and Principal Mike Adams suggested that summer school assignment change to fit the assignment they failed in classes during the regular school year. That will require a lot of buy-in from teachers during the regular school year.

Some students only spent a couple of hours because they were there either for math or reading at the middle school.

Teachers want to change that so these students will spend the whole morning with the rest of the student and have more instructional time, Hoffman said.

Students were tested upon entry into summer school and at the end to see where they were and to measure growth.

Teachers also want to make sure driver's ed doesn't interfere with summer schools in future years because some of those students had to leave class early, Hoffman said.

Future goals also are to include more students who don't have to attend summer school and to improve communications with parents, which should improve over time, he said.

Summer Academy has 261 students throughout the district participate this year, including 110 at Lincoln Elementary, 19 at Garfield Elementary, three at Longford Elementary, 34 at CCCMS, 21 at CCCHS, and 74 at Wakefield Schools.

About $40,000 was spent on summer school this year; in the year before $29,050 was spent, "so we're up a little this year," Hoffman said. About $37,000 was spend on teacher salaries and $2,000 on transportation, which was provided to students living 2.5 miles or further from the school.

Eight teachers taught at Lincoln, three at Garfield, one at Longford, five at CCCMS and CCCHS with one of them shared between the two schools and seven at Wakefield Schools.

Harvesters provided breakfast, snack and lunch for students while they where at school. The Kansas City food bank brought in five pallets of food to the schools at the end of May, Hoffman said, and food included breakfast items and "lunchable" type foods.

"It was a great thing for our kids, I think it really helped with our attendance," Hoffman said.

Hoffman acted as the truancy officer for summer school and said in most cases where attendance was an issue, parents complied after he informed them they would be turned into SRS and the county attorney if their kids didn't attend. He said he made calls to parents on five students. "Out of 200 that that's pretty good," he said.

Most attendance trouble was at the high school level.

CCCHS instructors Marsha Koster and Paul Lane said the high school students "treated summer school as a come and go party" in notes on the program. Eating also seemed to be distraction, they said.

"It's difficult for the high school students to be committed," they said. "It took a lot of encouragement, phone calls and prompting to get them to come to school."

Credit: Clay Center Dispatch, Kan.

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