Yesterday was the final day of our summer school program. I’m feeling tired but satisfied. Our program went off just as we’d planned it, and in the end the kids were pleading with us to extend it for another week. That was a high compliment in my book! Especially since they weren’t even receiving credit for participating.
Our daily schedule began with fifteen minutes of team building activities. These were games I found in the Tribes book, like “Alligators” or “I Love My Neighbor Who…” I’d start off with a greeting and morning announcements, then I’d tell them what today’s game was and everyone participated, every day.
After the morning team builder, we were excused to go to our classes. The first week we had two periods every morning, each an hour and forty minutes long. They had one period of ELD/English class and then a second period of either Math or History. After lunch they had activity classes. They had two days each of Media (I used GoAnimate and they made cartoons, and Hooda Math where thy played math games), Paper Mache piñata making, Scrapbooking (they created three pages of autobiographical images and text) or cooking. Cooking was the hugest hit. The first day they made cupcakes and learned basic cake decorating techniques, and the second day they baked chocolate chip cookies and decorated the cupcakes they’d made the day before. (Measuring, recipe reading were the skills mastered here.)
For the first week I struggled with bus schedules, and having the right bus stops set up. They wouldn’t make a bus stop for a girl who lived less than one and a quarter miles from school because the board had deemed students living within that radius “walkers.” I questioned the wisdom of having a kid walk a mile home in 103 degree weather, but they would not budge. Fearing for the safety of that student, I told her mom I would take her home each day.
We also struggled at first with numbers. In order for our program to balance we needed four teachers plus one who would work with a small group of eight newcomers. I’d been told that if our ratio dropped below 15:1 for the other classes I’d have to let a teacher go. None of us wanted to leave, and I knew that if we didn’t have at least 68 students by Wednesday, a teacher would be cut.
So every night I called anyone who’d been absent. I called everyone who had signed up and hadn’t shown up yet. I talked to their parents and assured them they weren’t too late to begin. I talked to the kids who said they couldn’t come and told them their friends were missing them. I told students to invite their friends to come. And it worked, all of it. By Wednesday we had 73 students, all but one with a bus to ride.
On the first Friday, as we basked in the glow of our success, one of our teachers who had been struggling with a medical condition decided she was just too tired to continue. We hated to see her go, but knew it was the best thing for her. So, we rebuilt our schedule, and a changed our teaching assignments. I went from teaching the media class to teaching the cooking class. While I am a good cook, I am not a cake decorator, so I worried about this a little at first. Decorating cakes with fifteen middle schoolers? Fortunately I had a high school student/friend who was helping and she is an avid cake decorator, so she pitched in on those days. Smooth as butter! As much as we missed our colleague, we did manage to keep going.
Several things stand out for me as helping to make this program such a positive thing for everyone involved.
* The students were all current or former English Learners. They were not there because they had failed a class the year before. They were not even getting credit for the classes. They just wanted to be there, and they stayed because they were having fun.
* While we made sure it was fun, it was still school. In my classes they wrote stories, reviewed Greek and Latin word roots, played vocab games and charades, and learned to map a story before writing it. When I thought just learning to make the map was enough, they wanted to write their stories, and did.
* There was an expectation of good behavior, and a sense of camraderie between students and teachers. Trust and a sense of community was built immediately and seemed to kind of carry us along. Because we had no one else to supervise the kids, we teachers were out on the playground eating lunch with the kids and hanging with them at break times. We were all in this deal together and relationships were built.
This experience has renewed my belief that we can have fun while meeting educational standards. I’ve always believed that, but the past three years have struck a blow to my confidence in what I know. I’ve tried to follow as closely as possible an impossible pacing plan, and haven’t made things much fun in my classroom. I am sure I will be taking a different stance in the year to come. I am beginning this summer vacation a little late, but with a full heart.