Plans for a revamped, renamed summer school program drew high marks from members of the District 65 School Board on Jan. 24. As a result of concerns about the performance of students in the traditional summer school program, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “We are presenting to you tonight a complete revamping of the approach to summer school. We are putting together learning experiences for students that are engaging and motivating

Dr. Murphy said the new program draws on experience the District obtained in providing several pilot summer school courses in prior years, in which students studied the sanitary channel and robotics. He said the new program would move forward “with something other than your traditional drill and skill where teachers stand in front of the classrooms in the hot summer months and actually put something together that students will find very intriguing and so will the teachers.”

Jamilla Pitts, summer school coordinator, said, “We intend to have a new energy, a new language (the program will be called ‘Summer Learning Experience,’ rather than ‘Summer School’), and a new attitude because we want our students to reflect a new attitude about learning.”

The program will also build on the focus on college and career readiness and the new Common Core State Standards.

The Curriculum

A significant part of the program is to increase student engagement and to teach students that they must take responsibility for their own learning.

“We know student engagement is critical,” Ms. Pitts said. The District will use the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum as a major part of the program because one of the best ways to address student engagement is through problem-solving learning, and the STEM curriculum is one of the best places to get problem-based learning experiences. Both literacy and mathematics will be infused in the STEM curriculum.

Another key part of the program is that fine arts will be offered. At K-4 grades it will be offered for about half the time.

Different programs are planned for different grade levels:

• “Adventurers” – grades K-4: literacy instruction, drama and creative movement, and STEM (Engineering is Elementary).

• “Pathfinders” – grade 5: options include STEM infused with literacy, fine arts, media arts, and Youth Development Courses;

• “Challengers” – grade 6: STEM (robotics and animation), and Youth Development Courses;

• “Leadership Academy” – grade 7: Academic Youth Development Program.

The Youth Development Course at fifth and sixth grades is a “very specialized youth development program,” said Ms. Pitts. “We want to get their mindset together, their skills together and get them to understand that they are agents of their own learning as they enter the middle school years.”

Susan Farrand, math coordinator, added, “We teach kids how to engage with one another respectfully in the classroom. We teach them they are responsible for the climate and culture in the classroom. It’s not just what the teachers do. It’s what they do too. …We teach them that you get what you put in, and if you work hard you get somewhere.

The Leadership Academy at seventh grade will be implemented through a program designed by the Dana Institute. “The thrust of the program is that it builds academic confidence for the students, but it also builds student allies so that we’ll have groups of students who understand what it means to work together and persist in problem-solving,” said Ms. Pitts.

The plan is to offer the Leadership Academy at the home schools of students “so we create these communities of learners who have a similar mindset and philosophy to propel them as they enter the eighth-grade year,” she said.

Timing and Heterogeneous Groups

The new program will run for four weeks, rather than six as it has in the past. It will run from July 18 to Aug. 11 for grades K-6, rather than from June 13 to July 21 as it did last year. It will start later in the summer, closer to the beginning of the new school year, in order to give students a “jump start” on the new school year, said Ms. Pitts.

The plan is to have heterogeneous groups said Ms. Pitts. “At-risk” students will have reserved spaces in the program. Students performing at “grade level” will be invited according to available spaces at grades K-6. At the end of seventh grade, all students entering Math 8 or Algebra 8 will be invited.

That will kind of mix it up,” said Ms. Pitts, “so we can have our summer learning experiences mirror what we have throughout the school year.”

The total number of students planned is 1,000.

Board president Keith Terry said the program was ‘very exciting.” Trying to pin down the essence of the program, he asked, “Is this intended to get them [at risk students] excited about learning?” Dr. Murphy responded, “That’s exactly what this is about.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...