COLUMBIA — Fourth-grader Shylah Cox has a hard time pinpointing her favorite thing about summer school.
“The best thing about summer school is everything,” the energetic Russell Boulevard Elementary student said.
Last Thursday, Cox was hard at work decorating a top in Retro Recreation, a class described by classmate Joshua Vincent as "what the old timers did to have fun."
The fourth-graders are among the nearly 7,800 Columbia Public Schools students enrolled in summer school this year, said Roy Moeller, manager for EdisonLearning, the district’s free summer school program. The first day of school was June 15.
Since 2008, the district has seen an increase of 929 students enrolled in the program on the first day. About 6,600 students attended the first day of class this year, Moeller said.
Enrollment has increased because the program offers free activities for students, said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services. Another reason for the increase is that high school graduation requirements increased from 22 to 24 credits.
Students in the K-8 program are not required to attend a certain number of classes, Moeller said.
“Some kids are enrolling back in March and then their plans change," he said. “That is expected."
Students with perfect attendance receive a $100 gift card, said Mary Humlicek, summer school director for Columbia Public Schools.
Those enrolled at the 9-12 level can only miss five days of school or else they won’t receive credit for the courses, Moeller said.
Russell Boulevard is one of three new summer school sites this year, along with Parkade and Fairview elementary schools, Humlicek said. The additions were possible because the schools now have air conditioning.
Kate Weir, who teaches Retro Recreation at Russell Boulevard, said summer school allows students to maintain academic progress or catch up if they need to.
“The cool thing about the curriculum is that it’s all hands on,” said Weir, who works as a Grant Elementary counselor during the school year.
On Thursday, her summer school students received the shirts they tie-dyed the day before. Weir asked the students to guess who had washed their shirts.
They assumed it was her and began to shower her with thank-yous — until she explained the shirts were laundered by Principal Ed Schumacher, who was eager to see the T-shirt designs.
Later that afternoon, students began decorating spinning tops with markers and paint. For fourth-grader Briana Harbour, "all the fun stuff like making yo-yos and tie-dying and cup stacking" are the best parts of spending summer days in a classroom.
In addition to Retro Recreation, Weir teaches a math course that focuses on 3-D geometry. Students learn about the construction of shapes using straws, pipe cleaners and paper, culminating in the construction of their own city by the end of the summer, she said.
Wafa Mufleh has two sons in summer school this year. Abdullah is in second grade, and Yusef is a fourth-grader in Weir’s math class.
“I just wanted them to spend more time around people and do something beneficial during the summer,” Mufleh said.
Hickman High School junior Jae Park is also taking summer classes for learning and fun. He enrolled in English and theater arts.
“English is my second language, so I need a lot of English practice,” said Park, who moved to Columbia from South Korea in January.
Eighth-grade students in Becky Baugh’s “The Wave” cooking class at Lange Middle School are also learning some new skills. The class focuses on microwave-based recipes, as well as entertaining.
Baugh is a family and consumer science teacher at Oakland Junior High during the school year. She's taught summer school for five years and this class for three years.
“I feel it’s really important for students to learn a life skill that they use forever — like reading recipes and using a microwave,” she said.
On Friday, her students Zachary Lolley and Gary Flores squeezed the water out of a ball of spinach over a sink.
Classmate Karla Morales offered a word of advice:“If you guys spew any more juice out of that, it will be too dry to eat.”
Morales was interested in taking the class to learn more about cooking.
“My mother and grandmother are teaching me how to cook very important and difficult recipes,” she said.
Some of those recipes include her grandmother’s special salad, cow tongue and carne asada, she said.
The students’ motivation to work hard is driven by the end product.
“They want their stuff to taste good, so that’s the incentive to do a good job,” Baugh said.
The School District's Finance Committee has discussed the possibility of the school system running its own summer school program in the future, Humlicek said.
The School Board briefly discussed the idea at its December 2008 meeting before approving a one-year contract with EdisonLearning. The question came up again at a recent Finance Committee meeting, Humlicek said.
There are a few reasons why the committee wants to investigate the summer school program further, said Tom Rose, vice president of the School Board and a committee member.
The district is always trying to look at saving funds and seeing what it can cut for the next fiscal year, Rose said. In addition, a new Missouri law will take away the penalty to school districts for decreased numbers of summer school attendance, he said.
The committee will meet again in August to discuss future plans for the summer school program, Rose said.