Eight-year-old Courtney Callahan wants to have perfect attendance this year at Newton Summer Adventure, Columbia’s main summer school, so she can help those in need. While other students are excited to use potential incentives on toys and school supplies for next year, Courtney plans to use her $100 to buy food for the Central Missouri Food Bank.
“I’ll probably give my money to feed the children,” she said. “I’m really worried about them not having food.”
Courtney was one of 710 students at Derby Ridge Elementary School who started summer school Monday through Newton Learning, a tuition-free independent summer school provider.
About 6,000 students are enrolled at 10 schools across the district, said Newton President Larry Reynolds. Based on experience, he expects a slight decline in the number of students who attend.
Last year, more than 6,300 students attended the first day of summer school.
To increase interest in summer school, Newton Learning provides monetary incentives to students based on their attendance. Students receive a $100 Visa debit card for perfect attendance and $50 to $75 for missing only seven to 14 hours.
While students have the choice of spending their money as they wish, this year they also have the opportunity to donate their incentive to the Ronald McDonald House, where the families of critically ill children can stay while the children are being treated.
“What’s really great about this is that it’s children helping children,” said Amanda Korte, communications and event coordinator for the Columbia Ronald McDonald House. “It helps youngsters get involved with philanthropy, giving to others and thinking outside their own realm.”
The Newton program is being used in more than 70 districts throughout Missouri. In Columbia, it runs from June 13 to July 15 for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. While younger children are in classes focused on core subjects and fun activities like Lego Academy — in which they can build things with Legos — high school students are able to make up classes or take them to get ahead.
Ana Miller, who called her daughter, Jensen, “a school fanatic,” said her children were eager to return for their second summer of the Newton program. She also saw the program as a good opportunity for her son, Ellis, who will start kindergarten in the fall.
“I think it will be a good primer for my son to prepare him for kindergarten,” said Miller, whose children are attending the summer program at Shepard Boulevard Elementary. School
Ellen Nichols, another mother, agreed.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to do something that’s well-rounded and also educational,” she said.
Nichols, whose son, Russell, is at Derby Ridge, said she checked into private summer schools but found the average $2,000 tuition rate too expensive.
“I just think it’s hard to justify spending that kind of money when they can get it from the public schools,” she said.
Columbia also has a much smaller, fee-based summer school program.
Many children were excited about their first day of Newton classes. Russell was looking forward to puppets, math and wood painting. Courtney, on the other hand, was eager to see her “magic tricks teacher” because he’s “a total hottie.”
Last year, summer school got off to a rough start when the school district faced transportation issues with children being bused to the wrong buildings and not getting home on time. Reynolds said it’s a trend for any summer program to get off to a rough start, and this is only its second year in Columbia. He also said that last year’s experiences taught everyone what to expect and that the program anticipates a smooth beginning.
Lisa Nieuwenhuizen, summer school principal at Oakland Junior High School, was pleased with how well the first day went.
“We have done a complete 180,” she said. “It’s so much better.”
Nieuwenhuizen credited improvement to the fact that middle school students were in their own building, rather than sharing it with high school students as they did last summer. She also said everything the faculty and staff learned from last summer helped as well.
“It’s always chaotic the first year,” Reynolds said. “But the second year, they (teachers) get their feet planted beneath them.”
After she dropped her children off at Shepard Boulevard, Ana Miller said she could tell improvements were made.
“Last year they had elementary students at middle schools where there weren’t playgrounds,” she said. “That wasn’t smart. But they took those bugs and worked them out this year.”
Missourian reporter Julie Wyatt contributed to this article.