How districts can make summer school more like summer camp

Along with catching up on math and literacy, students can build robots, learn dance and practice outdoor survival.
By: | March 14, 2022
Washington County elementary or middle school student can attend the various summer school camps in robotics, athletics, coding cooking and dance, among other subjects.Washington County elementary and middle school students can attend various summer school camps in robotics, athletics, coding, cooking and dance, among other subjects.

Here’s an idea for K-12 educators now designing their summer school programs: You can teach literacy through fishing.

That, along with dozens of other integrated activities, is what Washington County Public Schools in Maryland has in store for summer. The camp-like atmosphere was a big success last summer as administrators looked to help students reengage and rebound from a year of heavy disruptions, says Gary Willow, the district’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“You can build literacy all around a fishing camp—what’s the best type of bait, what’s the best type of hook, what’s the best time to go fishing,” Willow says. “Kids will read that. You can incorporate writing. If kids are signing up, they already have that interest.”

Like last summer, any Washington County elementary or middle school student can attend the various camps in robotics, athletics, coding, cooking and dance, among other subjects. Students can sign up for multiple camps, one week after another. The ideas for the camps were generated by teachers who have expertise in each subject and who will work with administrators to incorporate math and literacy standards.

“This summer, we’re going to focus more on embedding the literacy and math skills more consistently within the camps,” Willow notes. “Last summer, just getting students engaged and back in school was the big priority.”

What are your priorities?

A survey of educators by Savvas Learning Company identified the top curriculum needs heading into the summer:

  1. Reading/English language arts—especially reading comprehension and writing support
  2. Math skills
  3. Curriculum to remediate and close learning gaps
  4. Staff/teachers
  5. Three-way tie: social-emotional learning, online lessons, engaging materials

About half the respondents also said they would use a screener or diagnostic test to identify students’ areas of need and to monitor progress during summer school. “Teachers have been working hard to get students back on track academically after three school years of disrupted education,” said Bethlam Forsa, Savvas’ CEO. “This summer will be a critical time to reenergize learning, and school districts are looking for evidence-based learning materials that are easy to use. That is why it is important to develop flexible, high-quality math and reading programs designed to maximize valuable teaching time.”

The district will again offer small group tutoring to middle and elementary schoolers, and students moving from 8th to 9th grade will also be able to participate in a transition program. An extended high school program will be more traditional, allowing students to earn new credits and recover lost credits, Willow says.

“We had academic gaps before COVID and COVID expanded them,” Willow says. “Now, everything we’re doing is centered around closing those gaps.”

Summer school is ‘our jam’

On the other side of the country, the Umatilla School District in Oregon will again offer a blend of traditional instruction in the morning and STEAM camps in the afternoon. Students who participated last summer showed significant growth, Superintendent Heidi Sipe says.

Like Washington County, Umatilla’s summer programs are open to all students. Still, the district is able to maintain a student-to-teacher ratio of 10-to-1 or lower. And the STEAM camps run the gamut from art to social-emotional learning to outdoor survival, robotics, drones and career-and-technical education.

An added element for high school students will be visits to area community colleges and certificate programs. High schools students will also be hired to help teach the STEAM camps. Additionally, the district has hired a liaison to encourage migrant families to enroll their children in summer school.

Because there is wide acceptance of summer school in the community, about 35% of the district’s students were enrolled last year, Sipe says. Last summer, high school recover a substantial number of credits. Students transitioning into kindergarten also showed significant gains from summer school, Sipe says.

District educators will continue to look at data to determine what academic skills should be the focus of summer school instruction. “We love extended learning,” Sipe says. “After-school and summer school, that’s our jam.”

More from DA: 5 keys to summer school’s role in helping students rebound from COVID