GARDEN CITY - If you ask Serenity Washington how to make homemade ice cream in a bag, she can tell you the ingredients and the detailed process in a matter of moments. It starts with going to the store to buy half and half – if you don’t have any on hand.
It’s one of her favorite things to help her grandma make during hot summer days. The 7-year-old learned the recipe – and how to measure the ingredients – during last year’s summer camp at Garden City Unified School District 457.
Serenity and her cousin, Ilyana Martin, also 7, had so much fun last summer, they were excited to attend this year’s camp, too.
“It gives them something to do,” said their grandmother, Patty Warren, of Garden City. “I know they are learning, and there are great instructors. It seemed like they were coming home every day with a new book to read.”
Serenity still enjoys making the ice cream she learned about last year, but this year, she was excited about reading, math equations, learning about plants and playing bingo with Cheerios.
“It (camp) helps keep me focused,” she said. “It was really fun, too.”
Warren encouraged others to attend this year’s summer learning opportunity.
“I’m a firm believer,” she said. “I think it’s good for all the children to get that one-on-one social interaction. Mrs. Schweer is awesome. She is what makes the program thrive.”
Ask students and teachers, and they will echo that same thought about Jamie Schweer, who has coordinated the summer school program for the Garden City district for six years.
This year, students from three elementary schools – Gertrude Walker Elementary School, Alta Brown Elementary School and Jennie Wilson Elementary School – gathered at Gertrude Walker from June 6-17 for a summer camp. There were 96 students in grades kindergarten through fourth who participated, Schweer said.
Camps took place at three other elementary schools across the city. In total, there were 300 kids served at all four sites.
“This is probably one of the largest summers,” Schweer said.
Camps focused on English language arts, math and STEM activities.
Students learned about dairy farming and made cottage cheese and butter; learned how to use dried flowers to create bookmarks; utilized arts and crafts to prepare Father’s Day gifts; learned about service animals; and received free books.
“Garden City is a very diverse community,” Schweer said. “There are many, many languages spoken here. It gives us an opportunity to give English language learners a little more help. And we’re all in catch-up mode because of COVID. The summer program helps recoup some of those losses. It’s open to all students, but we focus on the students who need extra help.”
In years past, the summer camps were only open to students from five elementary schools across the district. Now, with additional money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, the camps are open to all elementary school students in Garden City.
Some participants were transported to camps by bus, while some were dropped off by parents, Schweer said. Students were provided breakfast and lunch through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and camps ran from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Each day, every location spent one hour on reading, one hour on math and one hour on STEM projects.
Melissa Hahn has been teaching at Garden City USD 457 summer camps for five years, she said. This year, she taught math to fourth-grade camp participants. During the school year, Hahn teaches sixth-grade math at Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, Garden City USD 457, which serves fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“I get to work with the fourth graders in a smaller setting,” Hahn said about summer camp. “It helps them build confidence. Kids can struggle with confidence in math.”
Hahn also helped teach English language arts.
Students learned about static electricity using their hair and balloons. They learned about renewable and nonrenewable energy and made windmills.
“The students we get to work with in the summer really benefit from a smaller setting,” she said. “We help break them out of their shells – help them gain confidence, and they learn how to ask questions. They get more time to do STEM projects. It gets them excited about reading, keeps their interest sparked.”
Students who are involved in summer camp seem to really love it, the teachers and “Mrs. Schweer.” And Schweer is passionate about seeing all students thrive. In March of every year, students begin approaching Schweer about her plans for summer camp.
“I love my kids,” she said. “They get to come to school, and they get to have that feeling that school is fun. We put away stereotypes. We learn. We have fun. I know it’s important to the kids.”
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