Federal funds help boost local summer school programs | SummitDaily.com

Federal funds help boost local summer school programs

Kathryn Corazzelli
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily Alejandra Guitierrez Soto reads with Janet Anderson, Summit School District Paraprofessional during a recent summer school session.

While school districts all over the country are slashing summer programs because of state and local budget cuts, Summit School District is boasting what they’ve deemed the “Cadillac” of summer schools, and it’s all thanks to an extra boost in funds from the federal government.

Dillon Valley and Silverthorne Elementaries were able to secure $232,000 for their elementary summer learning program through a Title 1 supplemental grant; this is the first year the schools were eligible for such funding. Both schools operate under a Title 1 status, which means they receive additional government funds because of a higher population of low-income students. In past years, funds were held back from the schools’ usual Title 1 grant to provide a summer school at Silverthorne, and a family literacy night at Dillon Valley.

“The state and feds had a big pot of money in the pool, and not many people applied for the grant,” said Summit School District director of instruction Robin O’Meara. “That’s why we were able to get such a good piece of the pie.”

O’Meara said only 36 districts in the state applied for about $4 million. The extra cash – the district usually runs the program on about $50,000 – $75,000 – has allowed administrators to purchase a total of 60 netbooks, 50 iPod shuffles and numerous books. The money also went to pre-summer training and a raise for teachers, the hiring of paraprofessionals to assist them, bus transportation to and from the program, and a supplied breakfast, lunch and snack.

“We were very lucky to be able to extend it as far as we could,” O’Meara said.

There are 106 students entering first through fifth grades enrolled in the program, which provides literacy and math instruction to support the students’ success in the upcoming school year. Children identified for the program were the furthest from being proficient in both those areas. The six-week program, which started at the beginning of June and runs through July 14, includes a two-hour literacy block and a one-hour math block, four days a week.

When children get back to school after summer vacation, O’Meara said, teachers usually do a pre-assessment to evaluate any loss in proficiency. Instead, the goal for these students is to make sure they’ve gained.

“It’s really establishing some background knowledge and building their vocabulary, so they are ready for what is coming,” she said.

“Usually they don’t approve technology within these grants, but because it was linked to literacy it was OK,” O’Meara said.

The netbooks allowed the district to purchase subscriptions to Raz-Kids, an interactive ebook that allows students to have the book read to them while they see it on the screen. They then read it back into a microphone, and the teacher can hear them and how they’re doing. The computers also allow students to continue with the Everyday Math program, an online curriculum adopted by all six elementary schools.

The iPods are also being used for literacy; as part of a community service project, high school students recorded books for the elementary kids.

“The main thing for us, it’s immersing kids in language,” O’Meara said. “They need to hear it, see it and use it.”

The technology heightens the level of engagement with the kids, especially those on the intermediate level, she said. And, of course, the kids think it’s cool. The iPods are all different colors and the netbooks are white.

“It’s their world,” O’Meara said. “It’s what they are engaged with at home.”

After the program is over, the technology – and the reading, writing and math books – will be split 50-50 between the two schools for use throughout the year.

Another exciting aspect of this year’s program was extra training, or “professional development” for the teachers prior to the summer school, specifically in literacy for English language learners. There are a total of 17 teachers and four instructional coaches, who are providing feedback and coaching to teachers during the program.

“That’s what makes this summer school unique,” O’Meara said. “It’s a learning experience for teachers, too.”

The teachers are providing feedback to administrators regarding their training, to see where they might need to fill holes next year.

Surveys will also go out to kids and parents, to see what they got out of the program and what might need to be changed. Teachers will also look at the before and after data regarding student performance to see if the children made any growth over the six weeks.

O’Meara called this year’s program a “unique opportunity” and said it would be nice to build on it next year, but it’s always unclear what the state or government will do money-wise.

“Both principals are concerned about students spending time in school,” she said. “They need extra time. I think they will try to, within their budgets, set money aside for that summer school experience. I’m sure that will always be part of our future.”

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