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Summer Learning: Elk Valley students enjoyed career planning, cooking during summer program

LONGTON – Last year, during the Elk Valley Unified School District 283 summer program, Jason Russell included plenty of outdoor activities for participants, including archery and fishing.

So, when he surveyed students about what courses he should offer for this year’s program, he thought he would be including the outdoor options again.

He was wrong.

“They really liked researching,” he said with a laugh. “They enjoyed the career planning and science portions. I was surprised, but what they remembered most was the career exploration and PowerPoints.”

Russell is a business teacher at Elk Valley High School, director of technology for the district and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) coordinator. He also coordinates the summer program for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students.

Elk Valley USD 283 is located in Longton, a small, rural community of about 380 people in southeast Kansas, said Mayor Cathy Mitchell. The town has a café, bar and grill, volunteer fire department, city library, convenience store and museum.

Mitchell – and many of her relatives – attended and graduated from Elk Valley schools. After moving away and living outside of Kansas, Mitchell determined small-town life was for her and moved back to Longton. She was installed as mayor in January 2022.

The community is comprised of people from all different walks of life. There are young families who, like Mitchell, moved away and then came back to live in Longton. There are families who have lived in Longton for generations and are the “backbone of the community,” Mitchell said.

“I’m seeing people becoming more energized and excited about our little town,” she said. “It (the school) is extremely important. It’s a vital part of the community. We’ve created a committee to promote our schools. We need to increase the number of students.”

With dedicated teachers like Russell and innovative summer programs, there is a good chance that can happen. Currently, there are fewer than 100 students in K-12. There were 18 students who attended Russell’s four-week summer program.

There also was a summer program for younger students. A big highlight for the younger students was Legos, robotics and field trips to the zoo and movie theater.

Russell’s group of students spent Monday through Thursday in the classroom and took field trips on Fridays. Sessions began at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast offered through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Each day, students were provided lunch through SFSP, too.

While the program got started later than anticipated because of flooding, students still spent the majority of the first week building a foundation of awareness about postsecondary education. All students took career exploration surveys to find out their strengths and weaknesses. They also researched career pathways.

“We were opening their eyes to what is out there for them,” Russell said.

Students capped off the week by “making larger-than-life Pokémon-style cards that highlighted their creativity and knowledge” about their career choices, according to the Elk Valley Facebook page. Students then utilized public-speaking skills to present their creations to the entire group.

During the second week, Russell’s students focused on science. They learned about animal and plant cells and created edible cell reproductions; learned import skills like fire starting, water purification and simple chemical reaction; and studied the science of color through tie-dying.

The third week was all about learning how to design and prototype small business concepts. They utilized Cricut machines, 3-D printers and laser CNC machines to produce a final, functional prototype product.

The final week, students learned about modern American vegetarian food, as well as food from Spain, Ukraine and Japan. Students dived into the culture of each country and then cooked a traditional dish from that country. For example, when students studied Japanese culture and food, they made edamame, miso and Japanese stir fry. They also learned the history of Ramen.

“They were all a big fan of the ginger root,” Russell said.

When students discussed the war in Ukraine, they learned how the war is impacting the United States. Then, they spent time making and eating potato pancakes.

Community members even joined in on the summer program through visits and presentations to students. Morgan Lange, an intern at the Kansas State Research and Extension Office and a graduate of Elk Valley, delivered tips on great snack options and healthy living.

“Cooking has been my favorite part,” said Sayhlaa Beaumont, a 9-year-old involved in the summer program.

Quentin Fogel, 12, loved the week of design and prototyping. However, since he wants to be a chef, he “also loved the cooking portion and the career exploration.”

“I enjoy the program,” Fogel said. “It’s something to do over the summer.”

Students learned while having fun during the summer program, which is funded through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) monies, Russell said.

“There is a significant amount of learning loss from May through September,” he said. “That reteaching part is so hard and frustrating for the student. This helps.”

It helps with not only retention and academic skills, but with postsecondary plans, social-emotional learning and keeping students excited about learning.

“The work ethics we push during the summer bleed over into the school year,” Russell said. “Kids are excited to come back to school. It really sets them apart.”

Posted: Jul 19, 2022,
Categories: KSDE,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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