With just one more week left of the Columbia Public Schools’ five-week summer school program, even morning drop-off has become routine. By 8:30 a.m. Friday, the assembly line at Derby Ridge Elementary School was already in full swing. Cars pulled up to the front doors one by one as children hopped out, some eagerly running into the building, others hugging parents before trotting inside.
A record 6,100 students enrolled in the tuition-free program this summer, and despite a bumpy start, attendance has been averaging about 85 percent for the 24-day session that ends Friday.
But the learning won’t end there. In fact, it’s once the students have left summer school that the district administrators will be able to truly evaluate the success of the program.
With disparities in student achievement between ethnic and economic groups and low enrollment for the summer enrichment and basic skills programs becoming the norm, the district administrators changed the way things were done.
So they added a new type of summer school in addition to the existing summer enrichment program. They contracted with Newton Learning, an independent company, to coordinate the free full-day summer school program, while the half-day enrichment program, that is tuition based, remains run solely by the district.
“This (new program) provided the opportunity for kids who maybe, in the past, would not have been able to come to summer school,” said Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “To have Newton come in and work with us and provide the infrastructure of the program has allowed us to make progress toward our district goals.”
Newton provides transportation to and from school, and the all-day program keeps parents from having to arrange for after-school care. The company also provides the curriculum and teaching materials, including lesson plans and training for teachers.
The program also provides a means to evaluate itself because it tracks each student’s progress in the program. Roy Moeller, operations manager for Newton Learning, said students in third through ninth grade complete a pre-assessment test in math and language arts or reading on the second day of school.
Throughout the five-week program, the curriculum is geared toward this test, which the students take again on the last day. These statistics will be included in a report to the district, which Moeller said would be completed a month or two after the program’s end.
Newton Learning uses this evaluation process for all of its programs nationwide, including 71 in Missouri this year. Now in its fourth summer, Newton Learning is a division of Edison Schools, a New-York based company. Adam Tucker, vice president of communications for Edison, said Newton Learning will also use parent surveys to assess the program’s success. He said parents are a good measure of the program’s success because not all children have to go to summer school.
Cozette said the district will survey both parents and teachers to assess the program.
“It’s to see how much they enjoyed summer school, how much it met their needs, and what concerns or improvements they would like to see addressed,” she said.
Although formal evaluations will not be distributed until the program is finished, some parents and administrators say they have already seen benefits from the program.
Moeller said he was pleased with the response from the community to Newton Learning, in that so many students are enrolled, as well as the response of staff and administration in preparing for the program.
But the summer has not been without problems.
A busing mix-up caused some students to be bused to the wrong schools on the first day, and some didn’t return home until after 7 that evening, causing panic among some parents. Moeller said in the future Newton needs to do a better job of transportation planning, especially with the large number of students enrolled.
While this high enrollment may have led to the busing mix-up, some parents see benefits to it as well. Debbie Lunt, who has two children enrolled in the program, said it is helping her kindergartner prepare for first grade because she is adjusting to the other students.
Tammie Pryor said she and her second-grade daughter both benefit from the program. She said she hasn’t had to worry about day care this summer. Pryor said her daughter loves all the activities and didn’t want to miss a day, even for a family vacation.
“I think it’s great she wants to be here every day, especially since she just finished the school year,” Pryor said.
Jite Eferakorho, whose daughter is enrolled in the program, said he thinks it is a good use of his daughter’s time. He said he thinks the balance between curricular and extra-curricular activities is educational for his child because she has fun with the electives but also will bring home a worksheet every now and then.
That combination of concept instruction and educational activities outlines the Newton curriculum.
A typical day in summer school begins in a homeroom, Moeller said. Students then have four core classes, rotating through reading, math, language arts and science. The subject matter, however, isn’t straight from a textbook. First-graders get to search for buried treasure while fourth- and fifth-graders find a way to connect candy to the Pony Express, according to the Newton curriculum.
In the afternoon, students begin their elective courses. Students will complete six electives total; three in the first 12 days and three in the last 12 days. These classes provide a greater hands-on approach to learning than the core subjects.
At Shepard Boulevard Elementary School, Laura Traffanstedt’s fourth- and fifth-graders take a different approach to motion. Her students get the chance to build rockets from kits and eventually launch them.
The students work with a partner and step-by-step directions to complete the project.
Traffanstedt told her students, “It’s very important not to try to put the pieces together like a puzzle so you don’t damage anything.” Instead, she walked them through each step, assisting as needed.
“This is my favorite class,” said 9-year-old Nehchal Bedi. “We learned Newton’s Laws and made rockets with straws so far.”
Outside, students in Lifetime Sports played with a parachute.
Still, the second- and third-graders in Summer Sauce were making the bigger mess.
The class exposes students to different summer activities and crafts. Before heading home for the weekend on Friday, they made ice cream from scratch, combining different ingredients in Ziploc bags and eating their creation at the end of class.
“It’s like when you make a sauce, you throw a little of this and a little of that in together,” said Kim Adkins, who teaches Summer Sauce in addition to second-grade math. She said although the class is scheduled in the media center at Shepard, most of their activities are done outside.
“We’re a little messy,” Adkins said.
The mess from the hands-on projects adds to the enjoyment for many students. Throughout the session, they get the opportunity to make chalk, do rock painting, use watercolors and make Japanese kites among other projects.
Even with the nontraditional activities, the students are able to talk about what they learned for the week.
Cozette said talking about what students learned is the benefit of the summer program to the district. She said research has indicated that students lose ground over the summer, but with summer school, children are involved in a fun and educational program.
“If students just don’t regress, we’ve made progress,” she said.