SVVSD give elementary students academic summer options

Originally published in the Times-Call >>

Literacy teacher Brenda Gilson recently led a group of three elementary students through a literacy lesson, helping them write out words with the “ay” sound and then come up with a sentence about really fast greyhounds.

As one girl got stuck on spelling the word “really,” Gibson encouraged her to first sing the letters, then write them out as she sang them. Then she had her write the word three times with a textured piece of plastic underneath to create “bumpy” letters.

“When you say it over and over, and write it over and over, your brain will own it,” she said.

The students were at Longmont’s Burlington Elementary, one of 11 sites for the St. Vrain Valley School District’s new extended school year program dubbed Project Launch.

“We’re really supporting students to give them a leg up next year,” said Burlington Principal Kerin McClure “They’re really focusing on these foundational literacy skills.”

St. Vrain Valley is offering a month-long, full-day program that’s four days a week, with intensive literacy instruction. The district covers tuition for the incoming second- and third-graders, with students in the other elementary grades able to attend by paying tuition on a sliding scale based on income.

“Shoring up those skills in literacy in the early grades, to give them strong, secure skills before moving to fourth grade, is really a priority for us,” said St. Vrain Deputy Superintendent Jackie Kapushion.

Generally, through third grade, the focus is on learning to read. Starting in fourth grade, students are reading to learn — and those who aren’t reading at grade level by then, research shows, are much more likely to struggle all the way through high school and beyond.

The district identified 2,200 students to invite to the elementary summer literacy program, with about 1,800 attending. Last summer, about 900 elementary students enrolled in the district’s STEM-based summer literacy program at five sites, with reading and writing practice embedded in STEM projects. This year, instead, the Innovation Center is offering more STEM-based classes.

Though there’s still a STEM component to this year’s classes, Kapushion said, the focus is intensive literacy and math support to improve foundational skills and prevent “summer slide.”

“It’s really important to continue learning through the summer,” she said. “Even maintaining students at grade level over the summer can be a challenge.”

While most of the students invited for this summer’s program didn’t meet grade level benchmarks in reading, some who were closer to grade level were invited to fill spots that weren’t accepted by those first invited.

The program is funded through a combination of money from the district’s general budget and from the state’s READ Act. The 11 school sites, one in each high school feeder system, provide free breakfast, lunch and transportation.

The program is structured with intensive literacy instruction in the morning — with students pulled out of the already small classes for small group literacy lessons — and project-based STEM activities in the afternoon. The program also includes daily movement and library time.

Each week, there’s a different theme that ties the lessons together.

Incoming first-graders, for example, read about watersheds and then created a model of a watershed during their library time, using a small robot to show how a water drop would move through the model.

Last week, with a design and engineering theme, younger students designed a robotic playground while older students designed an accessory to improve the robot, coming up with everything from a helicopter that would allow the robot to collect completed papers to a camera to help recover a lost robot. Then during movement, they used P.E. equipment to design their own games.

“We’re trying to bring in really engaging topics and themes so they really want to read and write,” McClure said. “The students get excited about reading about the theme.”