School district emphasizes innovation, creativity with summer programming
Imagine a public school offering dynamic courses in chemical reactions, better understanding various cultures through their distinctive art forms, busting myths just like the television show and building and programming robots.
Those ambitions aren’t a pipe dream but a reality in Summit County, with the local school district, in collaboration with several community partners, providing such opportunities shortly after the traditional school calendar comes to a close. For the second year, Summit Schools is offering its summer enrichment program, giving students chances to explore innovative and creative courses they would normally only be able to dream of.
The design and motivation of the program is keeping kids’ minds sharp, maintaining year-round enthusiasm for learning and allowing ingenuity and originality to flourish.
“There’s a phenomenon all of us witness called ‘summer slide,’ when students leave classrooms in June, and, if they don’t stay plugged in with reading, math and other learning opportunities, it’s easy for them to lose ground that they’ve made during the school year,” said Julie McCluskie, Summit School District’s director of communications. “So providing these rich, learning experiences for all students over the summer months is key to their success through the school year.”
Following the end of the academic year on Friday, June 3, this unique platform kicks off Monday, June 13 for children who recently finished kindergarten all the way through students heading into their 12th-grade year. The course schedule offers six sessions of three-day classes and range from brush-ups on reading, writing and math, to more experimental and experiential curriculum, like songwriting on guitar, photography and website desig, and jury-driven mock trials of beloved fairy tale characters.
The district put out a call in February to teachers as well as members of the community asking for proposals on classes they would like to teach. That netted 44 submissions and more than 50 courses for the program — several of which have duplicates due to popularity.
During separate meeting times — mornings from 8:30 a.m.-noon and afternoons 12:30-4:30 p.m. through the end of July — students within the school district and the nearby private Peak School can enroll and put their minds to work in this relaxed, ungraded environment. If nothing else, for a nominal fee of $10 per student each class (with need-based scholarships also available), it puts these children and young adults in a entertaining refuge with peers instead of sluggishly sitting in front of a screen or complaining to their parents that there’s nothing to do.
“We’re providing affordable alternatives where students get learning opportunities, as well as safe place with all their friends to come and learn about given a topic that they’re interested in,” said Jaimee Borger, the district’s summer programs coordinator. “It’s a great opportunity and a fun time of year, both for students and teachers.”
The school district has made some notable adjustments after its inaugural year with the summer program, such as increasing the number of sessions and reducing the length of each course and commitment. In 2015, there were just three sessions — one of four weeks, one of three and then one of two weeks — but, after receiving feedback from participants and looking at overall attendance numbers, the shift toward shorter terms was made to satisfy the high demand.
“We learned a lot last year,” said McCluskie. “The idea is we’re trying to create a more continuous and more consistent program for six weeks over summer instead of having it so spread out last year. This year, we’ve structured classes and scheduled it during key times of the year in the hope of meeting the needs of more families just with how we’ve designed it.”
Waitlists of 40-50 students for each session were not uncommon last year, which showed the district there was clearly a need for these type of opportunities in the county as questions persisted about how wide sign-up and attendance might be. Still, in spite of big registration totals, groupings of students didn’t end up showing up for some classes due to August travel and as the academic year approached. So this year, August summer course offerings have also been nixed, as the Monday, Aug. 22 school start date nears.
From what organizers and teachers can tell, though, interest in the program and myriad classes remains high. And with most courses accepting only between 12 and 20 students, depending on the focus, and a total of somewhere around 950 total slots, it’s recommended that families get their students registered for their top choices sooner than later. The one caveat is that students sign up for no more than two of the six sessions, so more Summit County families have a chance to participate.
The first chance to enroll in the program is this Tuesday, March 22, from 5-7 p.m. at Dillon Valley Elementary in Dillon at a summer showcase, where 17 organizations from around the county will be in attendance to discuss youth programming around the community this summer. A similar event will be held the next night, Wednesday, March 23, also from 5-7 p.m., at Upper Blue Elementary in Breckenridge, where parents and students can learn more about the enrichment program courses and register.
For those unable to attend one of those two events, online sign-up will be available on Friday, March 25, when the district emails out its weekly family and employee newsletter, Summit Family Connections, with a link to register.
The excitement of special courses that draw on the remarkable outdoor advantages of the region’s surroundings with “Exploring Summit by Trail” and “Art for the Senses” are appealing, but the summer sessions also provide classes that help students prepare for the next year’s standard coursework in math, reading and writing. For third- through fifth-graders, there’s also, for example, an entry-level Spanish class that teaches basics in shopping and ordering meals.
“We’re really trying to offer our secondary students classes that they find interesting and appealing but will help them prepare for higher-level learning during the school year,” said McCluskie. “But we also want to provide opportunities during the summer for students to get the basics down or get a jumpstart on the next year’s core classes.”
In just its second year, the summer enrichment program is also still in its infancy, so the district plans for it to continue to evolve. Organizers plan to send out evaluations upon completion of courses to solicit feedback for year-to-year improvements, just as was done in this previous interim.
“It’s only the second year,” said Borger, “and we’re still learning how to run the program efficiently and in a timely manner. We know it’s just March, and everyone is excited for summer and for it not to be winter, but we’re still discovering how the process can best be rolled out and appreciate the patience.
“And we’re always open to other courses that students and parents are interested in,” she added.
She also sees the benefits of hosting the majority of classes at one centralized location — Summit Middle School — in that it allows students matriculating from, say, elementary school to the middle school-level, an early introduction to fellow peers, gaining a better sense of their new learning surroundings and meeting future teachers. It’s a head start on comfort and familiarity for all parties that will pay dividends with the beginning of the new school year. The district is also providing transportation for the program, bringing students to and from the location, as well as for the classes that include the occasional field trip.
For the district and all those involved, the hope of the program is to give students and teachers the possibility of a structured, educational environment — in some cases reviewing and improving foundational skills in reading and math — in others offering stimulating and unconventional classes that challenge the mind, all during summer. There’s no telling where it may lead those who take advantage.
“What’s really exciting about the summer program is that we get to explore subjects and topic areas that go beyond our standard core content,” said McCluskie. “During a school year, when we’re focused on reading, writing and mathematics, it’s harder to provide those expanded learning opportunities. Summer months give us that chance.”
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