BVSD redesigns summer school as Summer Summit school year prep

Incoming fourth graders wrote about foods they don’t like, detailing the horrors of broccoli, grapefruit and pickles as they applied what they learned about writing paragraphs in their summer school class Thursday at Lafayette Elementary.

The class was ending its second week of Summer Summit, a 15-day program designed to introduce students to what they’ll be learning about in the fall and prevent them from “sliding back” on their academic progress during the summer.

“I like making new friends,” fourth-grader Samriddhi Sigdel said about the benefits of attending the program. “You’re not just bored at home doing nothing and just watching T.V. You get to be with a group and learn how to work with people. I improved in math and reading and writing.”

LAFAYETTE,CO JUN 15:First grade teacher, Jen Plants, works with students during the BVSD Summer Summit at Lafayette Elementary on June 15, 2023. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
First grade teacher Jen Plants works with students Thursday during the BVSD Summer Summit at Lafayette Elementary. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Boulder Valley School District has redesigned its summer school program for elementary and middle school students, switching from a half-day model over six weeks to a full-day model over four weeks. Students are attending four days a week in June, for a total of 15 days, at five sites.

Another change is the program’s focus. The previous focus on math and literacy interventions was switched to  previewing fall academic content while also adding electives like art and STEM.

“Instead of being more remedial, it’s giving students a preview to build their confidence going into the next school year,” said Cameo DeDominces, who is overseeing Summer Summit as the district’s extended learning coordinator.

She said the changes solved several challenges. Almost half the students enrolled didn’t continue with the program after the July 4 holiday, while a six-week program was less attractive to teachers who wanted a longer summer break. A full day, even though it ends mid-afternoon, also is better for working families than a half-day option.

“There just wasn’t enough time in that half day,” DeDominces said.

At the elementary level, the schedule includes a half hour of social and emotional lessons followed by literacy, math, social studies and science. Students rotate to a different “special” — art, music, P.E. or STEM — class each week, while they attend an all-school assembly each Thursday for their social and emotional lesson.

“It’s to build that belonging and community,” DeDominces said.

Middle school students attend a five-period day that includes a block for intervention or enrichment, allowing them to work on missing skills or move ahead using online programs. They also have time for independent reading and for individual conferences with their teachers during that block.

This year’s summer school version remains free for families, with free transportation, breakfast and lunch also provided. The district pays for the program using a combination of federal coronavirus relief money, state grants and general operating money. The district provides the curriculum for teachers so it’s consistent across the sites, along with teacher training before the program starts.

“It’s definitely an investment,” Deputy Superintendent Lora De La Cruz said. “This is the kind of comprehensive summer experience we’re really proud of. Kids are really enjoying it. It’s not something kids have to do, but something kids get to do.”

Most of those leading the sites are teachers in programs to become future principals. And while the district needed to hire teachers, aides and tutors from outside Boulder Valley last summer, all of this year’s 130 staff members are district employees during the regular school year.

“The targeted instruction and having a full day is so much better,” said Lafayette Elementary fourth grade teacher Carolan Covington. “I love that it’s a regular school schedule. It really gives you time for conversations with students. They are glowing. They know that they are learners and are feeling good about themselves. We’re having a blast.”

DeDominces this year changed the invitation process to include teacher and principal input in deciding which students to target, with about 5,000 students initially invited. About 1,270 of those students enrolled, with enrollment then opened to all students.

The goal was to enroll about 1,300 students, similar to past years, but enrollment swelled to 1,500 students with a wait list.

The district for the first time also is integrating its longstanding extended school year summer program for students with disabilities with its regular summer classes. Depending on their needs and goals, students with disabilities now can participate in some of the Summer Summit classes with their typical peers.

Plus, with funding from Impact on Education, Boulder Valley is offering a summer program for incoming kindergarten students for a second year. The program expands a previous Impact on Education early education program called Summer Shuffle, which was held at three Boulder Housing Partners sites.

LAFAYETTE,CO JUN 15: Abby, 5, reaches for a marker during the BVSD Summer Summit at Lafayette Elementary on June 15, 2023. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Abby, 5, reaches for a marker during the BVSD Summer Summit at Lafayette Elementary on Thursday. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The new version is an opportunity to offer the program to more students, including those outside Boulder. Boulder Valley invited preschool students who needed a little extra help with kindergarten readiness skills, while community partners suggested incoming kindergartners who didn’t attend a district preschool. Some skipped preschool altogether.

Ben Douglass, who’s an early childhood special education teacher during the school year, read the soon-to-be kindergartners an alphabet book before asking them to write the first letter of their names. Before reading, he led them in a song about using quiet voices and listening ears, then gave the sometimes wiggly students reminders to reinforce classroom skills.

“We sit in our spots and use our big looking eyes,” he said.

Along with working on classroom routines and social skills like sharing and taking turns, he’s teaching letters and letter sounds, counting to 20 and recognizing written numbers.

“It’s some basic skills to help them be successful,” he said. “They’ll have a step up when they start school.”

In fourth grade, the students spent the week learning about STEM topics in their specials class. Thursday, they built solar ovens to make s’mores using pizza boxes, foil, black paper, plastic wrap and lots of tape. Angevine Middle School eighth grade science teacher Heidi Reeg is teaching the summer STEM class, saying she was surprised by how much she’s enjoyed working with younger students.

“I’m having so much fun,” she said.

Fourth-grader Carmen Lopez said the STEM class is her favorite so far.

“We got to make mini airplanes and shoot off a rocket and do explosions with Mentos,” she said. “Summer school really pays off.”