Summer school students do a deep dive into fun

Back in the day, there were two words that struck fear in the hearts of children everywhere: summer school. Today, the dread has been replaced with fun.

I spent part of Tuesday morning at Camp to the Future, the Rockford Public Schools’ supplemental education program for students in kindergarten through seventh grades. I went to Rolling Green Elementary School, which is one of five sites for the program. The others are Beyer, Barbour, Lewis Lemon and RESA Middle School.

Students at Rolling Green School do lessons on iPads at  Camp to the Future, RPS summer school.

Students at Rolling Green Elementary School do lessons on iPads at Camp to the Future, RPS summer school.

Matthew Lerner, principal for the summer program at Rolling Green, took me around to see the variety of lessons and activities for the nearly 300 students on site. In addition to certified RPS teachers, the camp offers programming from the Burpee Museum of Natural History, Atwood Environmental Education program, Discovery Center and the Rockford Area Arts Council. The Rockford Park District has an on-site coordinator for the activities.

Each week has a different theme; this week was “Into the Deep.” In the Atwood class, students prepared to go outside and pretend they were salmon. The object was to go through an imaginary dam without being eaten by a bear (illustrating the principle of survival of the fittest). In another room, a Discovery Center instructor led an experiment that demonstrated the principles of cohesion and surface tension. With an aluminum pan full of water, an eyedropper and a penny, students tested how many water droplets the surface of the penny could hold before it spilled over the side of the coin. The average was 19-25 drops, the instructor said, but that didn’t stop some kids from counting creatively, getting up to 40 drops or more.

The lessons are innovative, but they are also intentional. They are designed to address gaps in understanding of Common Core standards, measured by assessments at the end of the last school year. Students were tested again this week to measure progress.

To qualify for summer school, students must attend a school that gets Title I funding. Priority enrollment is given to students who receive free or reduced lunch and who need enrichment in math and reading.

As many of the activities are “make and take,” the program builds a bridge between school and home. There are two days for parent participation, including the last day of class on Friday, July 18.

Unlike the summer school of my day, the kids and the instructors appeared to be having fun and enjoying each other’s company. In the hallway, the principal greeted a child with a “blub, blub, blub” noise as the child was filing outside for the salmon exercise. “That’s the sound a salmon makes,” he told the child.

I hope that fish wasn’t eaten.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator at the Rockford Public Schools. Contact her at mary.kaull@rps205.com. Like the district on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.