COLUMBIA — Kristi Schlegel’s kindergarteners at Benton Elementary School were almost singing as they repeated after her.
"H, house, huh," they chanted when Schlegel’s neon-orange pointer landed on the H square of a large poster of the alphabet.
"I, igloo, iii."
When they reached Q, Schlegel paused to explain that Q was a "chicken letter" because it never went anywhere without U.
Schlegel's 16 students were among the 7,700 or so who started summer school Monday in Columbia Public Schools. The breakdown is about 1,700 high school students and 6,000 kindergarten through eighth-grade students, summer school manager Roy Moeller said.
Most of the students are attending "SUNsations" for kindergarten through eighth grade. Others are attending classes for high school students, English language learners and gifted and special education students.
Attendance overall is a few hundred more than last year, but that isn't expected to cause any problems, Moeller said.
"If we have more kids, we hire additional teachers," he said. Six additional teachers have been hired.
Air conditioning is being installed this summer at Grant, Two Mile Prairie, Lee and Midway Heights elementary schools. As a result, students and teachers from these schools are relocated to West Boulevard, Alpha Hart Lewis, Benton and Paxton Keeley elementary schools, respectively.
This is not a new arrangement for Midway Heights and Paxton Keeley.
"We’ve had students from Midway before," Paxton Keeley principal Elaine Hassemer said, referring to the time when Midway Heights students went to summer school at Paxton Keeley. "We’ve looked at the class and worked to keep groups together."
In all four cases, each school’s students are placed with their classmates and school's teachers as much as possible. That’s not to say there isn’t any exchange among classrooms.
Luke Robison, a Lee physical education teacher, and Vicki Graham, who traditionally teaches third grade at Benton, are both teaching fourth grade at Benton this summer. Monday morning, they brought their classes together for physical education.
Robison led his class out to the field with a bag of soccer balls slung over his shoulder. "I do love doing summer school, it’s different," he said, going on to explain it's less about assessments and more about teaching.
Earlier, Graham led her fourth-graders in their first poetry lesson. She drew a wavy circle on an easel, wrote "poetry" in the middle and underlined "try."
"Who can tell me, what do you know about poetry?" Graham asked her 20 students.
Raising their hands, they described alliteration — "cute cats catch catfish" — and acrostic poems in which the first letter of each line forms a word: cute, adorable and tiny, for CAT.
Gljhonna Cobbins, Ashley Cascio, Belle Maun, Alissa Simmons and Mia Aggrey-Malm sat down at a table with pencils and paper to get going on "bio poems" about themselves. Asked what they like about summer school, they agreed that seeing friends was one of the best parts.
"I like that I’m in fourth grade," Ashley said.
"It really does get you ready for school," Alissa said.
Downstairs, Schlegel managed her kindergarteners as they took a bathroom break. "Stay on that side of the line," she told them as they shuffled to one side of a dotted line taped onto the floor to manage hallway traffic.
"What we try to do in kindergarten is get them ready for school," Schlegel explained. This means mastering such basic skills as walking in line or writing their names.
Last week, the schools held open houses so the students and their parents could meet teachers and see their classrooms. Monica Senecal attended the Benton open house with her son, Gabe. He is attending kindergarten this summer and will experience a full day of school for the first time.
"I want him to have a sample of what it’s like," Senecal said.
For other parents, summer school gives their children a structured, productive way to spend their time.
"The more they keep a structure, the better it is for them," Lisa Bruce said of her son, Miles Clark, who will attend second grade.
Robbin Ricketts has two granddaughters in summer school: Haunye Ricketts in first grade and Gljhonna Cobbins in fourth.
"They were very excited to go and have something to do," Robbin Ricketts said.
At the high school level, students can get ahead or catch up through summer school.
Kathy Roberts is teaching an English and speech class at Hickman High School. If a student didn’t pass the class in the school year, she said, they have the opportunity to obtain credit completion during the summer session.
"They’re a semester, in some cases, closer to graduation," Roberts said.
She said the summer session was a good opportunity for students, one they’d be wise to take advantage of.
“And parents know that,” Roberts said.
"SUNsations" and high school summer sessions end June 29.
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