By Mike Marsee
It is one thing to run a program that keeps kids entertained during the summer, and quite another to keep them engaged in learning as well.
Covington Independent Schools successfully shifted the focus of a program that’s been a mainstay in its community for more than 25 years to accomplishing both of those objectives, and officials and teachers say children there are the better for it.
Curriculum requirements were introduced in the Covington Summer Youth Program a few years ago, and work continues to make the curriculum stronger in hopes of preventing the “summer slide” that educators often fight at the start of a new school year.
Those efforts are bearing fruit in the form of improvement by schools in the district and by individual students.
“I feel that it has helped the students that I have seen that have attended the summer program and that I have in class the next year,” said Nicole Freyberger, a 2nd-grade teacher at Glenn O. Swing Elementary who has also been involved with the summer program for about five years. “I have seen an improvement because they haven’t had a chance to check out for the summer. They’re practicing their reading and math skills, and they’re coming in more prepared and familiar with what we’re doing at school.”
Reading and mathematics have been part of the Covington Summer Youth Program since the school district assumed management from the city of it a couple of years ago, but the educational emphasis doesn’t end there. This summer, the program plans to add a writing component.
“Some schools expressed that really want to encourage writing throughout the summer, so students will have a journal and will be asked to journal. It’s a more intentional approach to writing,” said Stacie Strotman, the director of community and family engagement for the Covington schools.
Writing isn’t the only addition this year.
Strotman said a STEM camp is being added, as well as a 3-D printing camp, and she said the district also takes advantage of resources available throughout northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. The Kenton County Public Library visits one school each week, The Carnegie visual and performing arts center conducts an arts camp, and there are other partnerships with organizations such as the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative and the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.
The program began as a recreation-based program run by the city of Covington, but it is now a collaboration between the city, the schools and Covington Partners, a non-profit organization that partners with Covington schools to eliminate barriers to learning and success.
“A couple of years ago, our superintendent at the time approached the city of Covington and suggested that we move toward including some academics as part of our summer program,” Strotman said. “They said, ‘How about you guys manage our summer program, and we’ll continue to financially support it?’”
The city continues to support the program, which runs for five weeks during June and July. Each of the district’s five elementary schools hosts a half-day program for students in grades K-5, and those students receive mathematics and reading instruction from certified teachers and enrichment activities and opportunities from community partners. Parents can also choose a full-day option in which students are transported to the local Boys & Girls Club for the rest of the afternoon.
Strotman said the programs for elementary, middle and high school students averaged 444 students per day last year – up about 11 percent from the previous year – and drew a total of 713 students.
She said a lead teacher at each elementary school helps plan the curriculum based on the school’s needs, and two to four teachers will teach the content.
“We have primarily the same teachers year to year, and teachers sort of share the summer program, where one teacher will do three weeks and another will do two weeks,” she said. “The majority of all of our teachers really want to spend more time with our students, and this provides an opportunity to give our students that extended time.”
Freyberger, who has served both as a teacher and as a coordinator for her school, said it is time well spent.
“A lot of times it was more of a place to have fun, and obviously we still try to incorporate as much fun as we can,” she said. “But the lessons that we do are based off the standards; they’re heavy with reading and math integration.”
She said the program is now sharpening its curriculum focus toward standards that teachers want to emphasize.
“Teachers at each grade level provide standards of focus they want us to add. The instruction focuses on what the teachers feel students are struggling with, so when they come back they’ll have had extra time to focus on skills,” Freyberger said.
Freyberger works through all five weeks of the program and at all elementary grade levels.
“I work with each grade, and it helps me improve upon my own skills,” she said.
But she said she enjoys working with students during the summer.
“I like getting to see them over the summer and then continuing to build those relationships,” Freyberger said. “It helps me to know what they need to know and what they’re coming in with.”
She said she typically sees about 25 to 30 percent of the students in her class in the summer program.
“A lot of our kids that come to our summer program have come since they were in kindergarten or first grade, and for the first time this year, we’re having kindergarten kids come in who have not been to school yet,” she said. “It comes back to the relationships. They know they can count on us because were consistently here.”
Strotman said the impact of the program’s academic focus becomes evident at the start of the school year.
“We’re seeing less summer slide from spring pre-test to summer post-test,” she said. “It’s not as large a summer slide as we’ve seen in years past; we’re moving in the right direction. And in reading we’re seeing some summer growth, and that’s fantastic news. What I hope is that teachers have to spend less time in September and October catching kids up so that they continue to accelerate.”
She said moving the summer program later in the calendar last year was another step in that direction. This year’s program will start June 22, giving students some time for a break after the end of the school year, and continue until July 24.
“We shifted the program to be closer to the beginning of the school year, and we noticed it also really helped with attendance,” Strotman said. “It’s enough time for teachers to have a break, and we found that parents are strongly encouraging their kids’ attendance by that point as well.”
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