Normally during the summer, schools are empty, waiting for students to return. This summer, the halls of several schools are bubbling with chatter, laughter and salsa music as more than 1,600 Eugene students attend extra classes.
The Eugene 4J School District has introduced a new summer school program in an effort to close the learning loss gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic and online learning.
The Summer Enrichment and Academic Learning Program uses non-standard learning methods to help students in grades one through eight achieve success in their upcoming school year. About 600 students enrolled in the 22-day program held in three elementary schools: César E. Chávez, Holt and River Road.
“The kids all seem engaged, they all seem to be having fun with the different activities going on,” said Casandra Kamens, Extended Learning Program Administrator at 4J. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of sitting time for students. There is a lot of manual work. »
Class time is balanced between teacher instruction and student projects that highlight areas of English language arts, math, and science.
Kamens said the district has developed specific strategies to address learning loss in the curriculum, such as strengthening phonics skills and reading skills, which many students have been lacking after the pandemic. The SEAL program also uses Math For Love, a tool that integrates games into math problems, which students and teachers enjoy.
“We are working on their learning loss at the same time again. One of the goals of our program is to really ignite the joy of learning in children,” Kamens said. “I’ve been telling teachers from the start, if kids aren’t having fun in their learning, then we have to change something, and we have to change.”
A change of pace for teachers
Amy Mathiesen, who normally teaches third grade at Adams Elementary, worked with incoming third graders at Chávez. Although there is direct instruction, she said the program is very different from a normal school year and emphasizes student engagement.
“The curriculum is different from what we use in our general education classrooms,” Mathiesen said. “The kids are so excited to participate, so that’s the big difference. It’s not like a regular school, day or year program, or even activities. We have a lot of enrichment activities, and it’s just a lot of fun. And it’s also fun for teachers because it’s so different.
The math curriculum has been particularly exciting to work with, she says, and the kids love it. She and the other third-grade teachers working at Chávez for the summer plan to incorporate some of the math games into their curriculum during the school year.
When it comes to math, many students have negative connotations and low self-esteem, Mathiesen said. Math For Love games ensure students don’t even realize they are solving problems, which has proven to be effective.
Shelli Hopper-Moore, a fourth-grade teacher at Charlemagne Elementary School, taught fourth-grade students at Chávez. She taught summer school at Chávez last year, but said the SEAL program was wildly different. The level of engagement is higher thanks to practical projects.
“Instead of being at home where they could maybe play video games or watch a lot of TV or just be indoors, they’re socializing, they’re doing science, they’re creative,” Hopper said. -Moore. “It looks like I’m inventing, but I’m not inventing anything. A child said “I love summer school”. Oh, no, it’s a weekend. We won’t be here until Monday. I don’t, usually in my regular class.
“A lot of these kids are really excited to be here, and that sometimes surprises me.”
Another big goal of the SEAL program has been to make up for lost time in social-emotional learning. The pandemic has caused isolation for many students, limiting socialization. McKenzie Zimbelman, a third-grade teacher at Yujin Gakuen Japanese Immersion Elementary School, who summers in Chávez, said she and other teachers have worked to build students’ confidence in the classroom.
“Building that (confidence) in them will also help them learn better in the fall,” Zimbelman said. “We also have smaller classes here. So that was very helpful as well in building deeper connections faster with the kids. »
Summer School Results
Kamens said the district will conduct a full investigation after the end of summer session on Friday, August 12, to get feedback from the community.
“We want to be able to improve it and make sure we’re giving families what they need to grow their students academically, but also to want them to be engaged in school,” Kamens said. “(What) we really want is for kids who have struggled in school and love school to end up in our program, knowing they can do well in school.”
The SEAL Project is funded by the Oregon Department of Education’s Summer Learning Grant and Emergency Aid III for Elementary and Secondary Schools. Kamens said 20% of the district’s ESSER III allocation must be dedicated to addressing learning loss through September 2024.
The increased funding means teachers received $250 to spend on student rewards and incentives. Kamens said that’s probably triple what teachers normally receive during the school year to spend on prizes for students.
High school summer program
4J’s ESSER III funding also funds another summer school program, the High School Summer Intensives Program.
The idea for the high school summer program began in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tia Holliday, administrator of College & Career Readiness and CTE. The district has already seen the need for more diverse and engaging classes for older students, but the pandemic has made the program an even greater asset.
Intensive summer courses started remotely in summer 2020, hybrid in 2021 and now almost entirely in person for summer 2022.
“It certainly gave us the opportunity to give students new learning experiences during the pandemic and an opportunity to earn credits that they might not have had during the school year, as well as re-engage them in school,” Holliday said.
Holliday said 1,060 high school students are currently enrolled in Summer Intensive with more than 40 courses to choose from. Although there are purely academic courses, most courses are electives and subjects that students cannot normally take during the school year, such as Japanese mythology and folklore, Deaf literature, beekeeping, crime scene science, drones and more. Some of the most popular courses, such as woodworking, engineering, and cooking, have multiple sessions.
“We want to give teachers the opportunity to teach something they’re passionate about,” Holliday said. “Teachers benefit from an exclusive design on their content. They submit a proposal to us, and we review it and work with them, their standards base, and there is a capstone project that is required for each course.
“Teachers teach according to their passions and students have absolute choice of what they enroll in.”
At North Eugene High, Kelley Deitemeyer teaches a first aid and CPR certification course. On Tuesday afternoon, one of his classes came to practice the skills learned online. It started the summer with 90 students divided into 14 different sessions.
Sheridan Schilling, a freshman at Churchill High, said the CPR course was a great opportunity for her and the other students.
“I want to pursue a career in the medical field, so it was something that would let me know if it’s something I’m really interested in,” Schilling said. “I think it would look good on a resume and just useful for life in general.”