Portland-area summer learning programs are trying new approaches to spark teens’ curiosity and love of school

With summer programs for high school students in full swing across the metro area, many school districts have shifted focus to try to spark curiosity and inspire students who have fallen behind to pursue a passion. for learning.

In the North Clackamas, Beaverton, and Portland school districts in particular, there are many opportunities to explore new interests and earn credits missed in previous school years. Students earn credit in courses ranging from basic subjects such as English and math to more technical skills such as broadcasting and computer information.

In Beaverton, to plan summer school, “we look at who didn’t like coming to class. How do you do something that makes them curious again? Kacey Farrens, district summer program coordinator, said. With offerings that teach, for example, the principles of physics via soccer ball throws, students are “getting deeper into the content than they ever could in a general science class,” it said. she declared.

After nearly two years of in-person instruction disruption caused by COVID, districts are taking advantage of state-funded grants to provide additional instruction time to more of those who need and want it. wish.

In North Clackamas, about 500 students are enrolled in summer programs, according to Aeylin Summers, district summer program coordinator. This represents about 8% of the approximately 6,000 high school students in the district.

Summers said the programs are split between credit recovery, career and technical training, and a specialized high-level math program offered at Rex Putnam High.

North Clackamas has just completed week one of its second and final two-week session. Each session provides students with 30 hours of class time, or approximately one additional month of instruction.

Approximately 70% of coursework will result in a letter grade, which translates into credits toward graduation.

“These programs are an opportunity to explore things in a very focused environment,” Summers said. “The practical side of it is that it provides students with an undercurrent of hope, not just to get credit back, but in the hope of deciding that they like school, that they like learning.”

Summers said the district’s programming aims to eliminate the stereotype that summer school is only for students who have shown a lack of motivation, especially in the wake of the pandemic disruption. She said profiles of kids taking advantage of summer opportunities span GPAs and transcripts from mediocre to excellent.

“I love this adaptation, and it’s kind of nice to see kids recognizing this opportunity and taking it,” she said. “They understand that if they’re willing to come in July, work hard, they can get that grade on their transcript and get out of a year where they could have gotten lost.”

But just as many students at North Clackamas are enrolled in courses to deepen their understanding of topics they care deeply about, Summers said. For example, one course offers students the opportunity to formulate and record their own podcasts which are then played in the hallways of neighborhood buildings. Another course offered helps students learn the skills to create their own websites, while others dabble in the culinary arts.

In 2021, North Clackamas high school students earned a total of 1,082 credit hours over two summer school sessions, the second highest number of credit hours earned just behind Beaverton at 1,108. Both districts hope to replicate this success in 2022.

The summer school is meant to help students laugh and bond as well as learn academic skills, after the pandemic damaged many students’ socio-emotional growth and commitment to the school. Julian Ramirez Cruz, left, Alexia Braden and Emil Fabris participated in this summer’s learning opportunity at Beaverton High. Dave Killen / The Oregonian

The focus on changing the stereotype around summer school is also a component of Beaverton School District programming, said Farrens, the summer programs coordinator.

A course teaches science through sport: students learn physics by studying the propulsion of throwing different objects such as a soccer ball or a disc. Other students at Beaverton schools are learning propulsion and aerodynamics through rocket science.

Farrens said that in determining which classes the district will offer each year, administrators and teachers try to ensure that programming provides students with a “more than” experience, in which education goes beyond what that they usually learn in a classroom.

It gives teachers a space to be creative and to have their “cup full” and choose to do things in a way that expresses their passion, Farrens said.

Another crucial part of Beaverton’s summer programming is helping students deal with factors outside of school that affect their performance.

According to Farrens, just as much thought as educators devote to providing lessons that spark teens’ imaginations is devoted to providing enough bilingual counselors, social workers, facilitators to help stabilize a student’s educational experience. . These support staff members work with entire families as well as high school students.

“We recognize that students who don’t earn credit aren’t because they aren’t brilliant,” she said. “There are things in their lives that prevent them from accessing the school itself or their higher mind, so we want to break down those barriers.”

In Portland Public Schools, the district’s Leap Into 9th Grade program attempts to remove these types of barriers before a student enters high school.

The transition program allows eighth graders to connect with their peers and high school staff — teachers, counselors, administrators, and other adults — before they start the new school. Students can explore their high school in a low-pressure environment through activities such as scavenger hunts and locker practice.

Three teenagers and their teacher sit or stand next to a desk, where colorful blocks are laid out on the surface in front of them

Organizers of Portland-area summer school programs for high school students set out to establish that fun and school could fit into an overlapping wind diagram. At Beaverton High, pictured left to right at the next table, Brooks Colclazier, Nevaeh Villa-Hernandez, chemistry teacher Kaylee White and Axel Torres worked on a joint project.Dave Killen / The Oregonian

According to media relations coordinator Sydney Kelly, the district plans to examine quantitative data on the impact of these types of programs on student achievement.

“Early reports show that students appreciate the chance to move forward,” Kelly said. The school board has set a formal goal for students to become “critical thinkers, collaborators, and compassionate problem solvers who will be prepared to lead a more socially just world,” it said. she declared. “We are confident that our Leap program supports this goal.”

About 1,300 Portland high school students earned more than 600 credit hours in summer programs in 2021. According to Kelly, about 430 are participating in the middle school to high school transition program this year. Hundreds more are taking credit recovery and academic upgrading courses at district campuses.

The Legislature has allocated $150 million for schools to provide remedial and summer enrichment programs this summer, and the federal government has allowed schools to use a share of the nearly $2 billion in aid pandemic for schools over three years to be used also for summer offers. .

In 2021, the legislature invested $200 million in summer programs and 25,687 high school students statewide earned more than 18,000 credit hours, according to the Oregon Department of Education. The majority of these were earned in English/Language Arts, Maths and Science.

School districts receiving grants are required to report the number of students they serve, credits successfully completed, credits offered and earned by subject, students enrolled, attendance, and number of programs with specific accommodations and serving people with disabilities.

According to 2021 reporting data, the three districts saw students complete and earn more than 80% of the credit hours the district offered during summer programming. Beaverton students earned the highest percentage of credit hours offered, at 90%.

Of the $150 million the Legislature appropriated for summer learning in 2022, $100 million went to help school districts deliver summer learning and enrichment programs, with districts ahead of add an additional 25% of local funding in return.

The remaining $50 million provided grants to help community organizations across the state partner with educational service districts to support students with disabilities and historically underserved communities.

Data provided by Portland Public Schools shows that in Portland, the demographic of students taking advantage of summer programs is less predominantly white than the district’s regular school year enrollment. While 56% of students attending Oregon’s largest district are white, white students made up 44% of summer program attendees. Black and Hispanic students make up 31%, while students who self-identify as mixed race make up 12%, and Asian American students make up 6%.

–Sam Stites; [email protected]; @sl_stites

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