District: Summer school paid off for students with faster start in fall

Sean C. Morgan

Eighty-one Sweet Home elementary students and seven teachers got an early look at the School District’s new language arts curriculum as part of the district’s new summer school program this year and district officials hope resulting student confidence levels will lead to improvements in their academic achievement.

“I absolutely thought it was a renowned success,” said Cynthia Davis, fourth-grade teacher at Oak Heights Elementary. “The kids that had the summer school experience went into the beginning of the school year with confidence.

“They had already gone through the beginning of the curriculum that none of the other kids had seen.”

When the curriculum showed up in the classroom in September, Davis said, they had seen it: “They got to be the experts.”

Entering the new year with that kind of success, “you have an attitude that follows through,” Davis said. She anticipates it will have an impact.

“Even if that strong start is the one result we get, it was worth it,” Davis said.

Zach Sartin, fourth-grade teacher at Oak Heights, taught a different grade level, so he didn’t see directly the impact it had on his students this year, but “it was a really positive experience for the teachers,” he said. “It gave some of the kids that really needed a head start a head start.”

The program helped fight the summer slide, the academic gains lost while students are on summer vacation, and helped them build confidence, Sartin said.

This year’s summer school was the district’s first in possibly more than 20 years, said Supt. Tom Yahraes.

“It’s about serving our kids’ needs and using our resources in a targeted way to help our students, who are behind or need extra support.”

Kindergarteners through sixth-graders “suffer the most from instructional slide or regression over the summer,” Yahraes said. “If they’re already behind, they need more help to succeed.”

“One really important thing was student achievement,” said Chief Academic Officer Rachel Stucky. “We don’t want the summer slide.”

The district also wanted to give teachers a chance to use the new language arts curriculum without the pressures of a full classroom, Stucky said, and all seven teachers said good things about the experience.

The students attended summer school at Hawthorne Elementary, said Stacey Jubb, a teacher on special assignment in literacy at the Central Office. Jubb was charged with organizing the summer program.

She said the district staff wanted to give those students a boost as they enter the new school year with the new language arts curriculum.

Jubb said Stucky asked her what the district could do with its Title I funding, and Jubb recalled working in a similar program in Eugene.

The district used carryover of federal Title I funds, supplemental federal funding aimed at addressing needs of low-income students, to pay for the program, she said. Students received breakfast and lunch, and the district provided transportation.

The district worked with Head Start to identify incoming kindergarteners who might need additional help, Jubb said. “It helped relieve some of the anxiety (about school).”

The district reached out to the parents of students in the 10th through 40th percentile who might benefit, Jubb said. Special education and Title I teachers identified the specific students.

She said about 120 families responded to the initial invite, and 81 students enrolled in the program from 8 a.m. to noon with focused instruction in math and reading.

“Every single time when I asked (the teachers) was it worth your time,” Jubb said. “Everyone said, ‘yeah.’”

The students learned the new language arts curriculum, Jubb said. “It gave them a boost at the beginning of the year, definitely.”

Hard data are not yet available on students who attended summer school, she said. She expects to see results based on testing around January.

The district has been able to measure an improvement in reading accuracy among the students, Jubb said, and district staff have anecdotes “about how kids felt going into a new (curriculum).”

Next year, “I would like to see it grow,” she said. The district had one teacher at each grade level this year. She would like to see the district double the size of the program if funding is available and teachers are interested.

Yahraes said the district may continue using Title I funding and it may use money from the Student Success Act to extend the elementary program.

Yahraes said the high school ran a summer program for the second year as well, using Measure 98 funds. High school students focused on credit recovery.

He expects it will show immediate results with the number of students getting back on track toward graduation.

Additionally, the high school offered a winter school session during the Christmas break, said Kristin Adams, the high school success coordinator. The first year of summer schoo, 39 students recovered 46 half-credits, one trimester worth of work. During winter school, 21 recovered 21 half-credits.

This year, Adams said, about 40 students recovered 41 half credits.

The curriculum was developed by local teachers and provided by three teachers during summer school and two during winter school.