Don’t be surprised if you see the lights on at some Wichita schools this summer.
Several elementary and middle schools will continue to hold classes and other activities over the summer break as part of new measures to increase learning time.
“There’s longstanding research that shows kids lose their learning over the summer months because they’re not using it,” said Denise Seguine, chief academic officer for the Wichita district.
“You have students who don’t have all the supports (at home), and we’ve made some good gains with them, but they’re still behind,” Seguine said. “We don’t want to lose that.”
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The Wichita district plans to spend nearly $500,000 on summer programs at some priority and focus schools – those identified as among the lowest-performing schools in the state or ones that have the largest achievement gap between their lowest-performing students and state benchmarks.
Funding will come from federal Title 1 money targeted to low-income schools. Two middle schools – Pleasant Valley and Truesdell – have additional funds from federal school improvement grants.
At Truesdell Middle School in southwest Wichita, a new program called “A2E Academy” – which stands for Access to Excellence – will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday in June and July. It will serve up to 200 students, who can attend either a morning or afternoon session and eat lunch at the school. The district also will provide bus transportation from feeder elementary schools.
“Families are really excited. The kids are excited,” said Terrell Davis, principal at Truesdell. The school sent enrollment invitations to students identified as needing extra help, but the program is open to all Truesdell students, he said.
“With so many budget cuts, a lot of activities for kids have gone away,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to be in a safe place, learning, in a loving environment.
“We think it’s going to make a difference.”
The program is based in part on Truesdell’s before-school Pump It Up program, in which up to 100 students got extra help in reading, math or other subjects from 7 to 7:50 a.m. during the school year.
Truesdell’s program is “on the upper end” of summer offerings in terms of time and cost, Seguine said. Other schools will offer classes, tutoring or other activities during certain days or weeks this summer, she said. Teachers participating in summer programs receive stipends based on hours or days worked.
Many of the district’s 13 priority schools will offer some kind of summer programming. The list includes Curtis, Hamilton, Jardine, Marshall, Mead, Pleasant Valley and Truesdell middle schools and six elementary or K-8 schools: Anderson, Cloud, Mueller, Spaght, Stanley and Gordon Parks Academy.
Focus elementary schools planning summer programs include Franklin, Gardiner, Irving, Lawrence, L’Ouverture, Pleasant Valley, Washington and Woodman.
Pleasant Valley Middle School’s summer program, a partnership with Exploration Place, is open to Pleasant Valley students as well as to younger siblings who attend feeder elementary schools: Cloud, Pleasant Valley Elementary and Ortiz.
Families at schools offering summer enrichment programs should have gotten information or an invitation during the final weeks of the school year. Information also should be available on school websites or by calling school offices.
As part of its waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, Kansas has required focus and priority schools to submit plans by June 30 that detail how they will address seven “turnaround principles” intended to boost student performance.
One of the principles – maximize learning time – urges schools to evaluate their schedules and calendars and consider redesigning the school day, week or year to increase learning time.
“It’s really to take a deep look at the minutes of your school day and see if there are ways you can improve that,” said Sandy Guidry, school improvement coordinator for the Kansas Department of Education.
Guidry’s team spent several days at Wichita’s priority and focus schools performing a needs assessment, which school and district officials have used to guide their planning.
The report points to programs before or after school, on weekends or over the summer as ways to boost the time kids spend learning but also strategies for making the most of regular school days.
“There might be a lot of interruptions during the day with intercoms and things like that, which distract from the learning time,” Guidry said.
“In middle or high schools, it might be that morning announcements go on and on too long, and they could get that information out to kids in another way, without interrupting classes.”
Schools in Kansas and elsewhere also are starting to see summer as an untapped reservoir of potential learning time, she said.
“There’s been talk about extending learning time nationally” through extended-day, extended-year or year-round schools, Guidry said.
“I don’t know exactly what all the districts in Kansas are doing, but many are finding success with those … kinds of measures.”
The challenge, of course, is cost. In recent years, Wichita schools have closed and even shut off most utilities over the summer as a cost-cutting measure. Employees at the district’s downtown offices work four-day weeks through July. Middle and high school principals continue working in schools but zone air-conditioning to only occupied parts of the buildings.
This year, Seguine said, additional funds for priority and focus schools are making summer programs possible. But it’s up to individual schools to develop programs based on their students’ needs.
Some elementaries will target primary grades, when children are first learning to read. Others will gear summer programs to third- through fifth-graders who didn’t pass state reading or math assessments.
“We have a lot more data to really watch the progress of our kids,” Seguine said. “There’s a real sense that we’ve got to do something to continue that learning and support that learning through the summer.”
Programs will “look very, very different from one another,” she said.
They’ll also look different from the regular school year. Schools will incorporate field trips, outdoor sessions and hands-on activities that will make the math and reading lessons feel more like summer camp than school.
“It’s summer,” Seguine said, “so it still needs to feel a little bit like summer.”