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‘Not your old summer school’: Program blends fun and learning during summer months

SALISBURY — Nearly 500 Rowan-Salisbury students attended an opt-in summer school this year, but the three-week program isn’t your typical summer school.

“It’s not your antiquated summer school,” said Marae Reid, assistant principal at Overton Elementary School.

Instead of sitting in desks and rows listening to a teacher drone on while cicadas buzz outside in the summer heat, students are up and down, walking around the room, building models of the Three Little Pigs’ homes and attending physical education, art and music classes.

“The whole point is to make it fun, so that the kids want to be here,” said Kristi Miracco, district coordinator for multitiered systems of support.

Reid is based at Koontz Elementary for the summer, along with Granite Quarry Elementary Assistant Principal April Spry. Koontz is one of seven sites throughout the county serving students in first through third grades. In order to qualify for the program, students must have scored not proficient on end-of-year assessments.

Parents can choose whether or not to enroll their child.

The summer program started as Read to Achieve, which aimed to give third-graders another chance to improve their reading scores over the summer. A few years ago, it was expanded to first and second grades.

“It really has been a positive progression,” Reid said. “When it first started, it was very strict.”

Now, students focus on learning to improve reading through fun activities and focused learning. Administrators at each site often pick a topic or lens through which to teach — at some sites, that might be cooking, camping or science. At Koontz, it was animals.

“The whole point of summer camp really is to provide high-quality instruction and engagement … doing something outside of the box,” Miracco said.

The small class sizes allow teachers to have lots of one-on-one time with students and gives children who may have been overshadowed during the school year a chance to shine.

“It is rigorous. It is inviting. It is encouraging students to ask questions they didn’t normally get to ask during the regular school year,” Reid said.

Students receive free breakfast and lunch each day through the district’s Summer Meals Program. While waiting for breakfast to arrive, students and teachers at Koontz hold a “family meeting” to get in the right mindset for learning.

“We talk about what our day is going to look like,” Reid said. “The one thing I encourage students to do is ask questions every day.”

Sometimes the entire camp will participate in reading a book out loud or another fun activity. In the classrooms, students work individually with a teacher or in small groups. No matter what they were doing, the staff tries to make sure the kids are having fun and are learning.

“We really want kids to come away from this with a love of reading,” Miracco said.

The camps also combine students and staff from different schools at each site, giving students a chance to make new friends and practice social skills and staff members the chance to share ideas and learn tips and tricks.

“So we’re really creating a larger community of learners,” Spry said.

No matter what, it’s important for kids to look forward to each day.

At the end of the three weeks, third-graders will take the Read to Achieve assessment to gauge their progress, and all students will participate in a showcase to show off their work to parents and teachers.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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