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Summer learning: Topeka USD 501 offers enrichment camps, traditional summer school

Posted: Aug 6, 2021
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

Topeka Unified School District 501 saw a lot of successes this summer in its students after the district used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to offer hands-on summer enrichment camps, credit and unit recovery courses and summer music classes.

There were 380 pre-K-eighth-grade students who took part in enrichment camps at Topeka High School and the Topeka Center for Advance Learning and Careers (TCALC). Teachers offered in-person classes on art, science, sewing, coding and robotics, photography, cooking and more. Virtual classes were offered as an option, too. And music students were able to partake in band, choir and strings camps.

"These were hands-on, engaging and fun," said Billie Wallace, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Topeka USD 501. "We wanted to provide opportunities to help students make up some of the learning they lost. Teachers taught reading and math through cooking. Kids learned how to measure, cut and follow a pattern through sewing."

At Scott Dual Language Magnet Elementary School and Robinson Middle School, 245 students were involved in more traditional in-person summer classes.

Credit and unit recovery classes were offered at the district's high schools - and 417 high school students recovered 479 classes, the largest number ever recorded in a summer, Wallace said.

"It was a very different model than in previous years," she said.

While high school students were charged $25 for the credit recovery classes, the fee was refunded if they completed the course, according to Wallace. Teachers at Topeka West High School taught in-person and could choose to instruct students who needed a unit recovered or a whole credit recovered. Some students who needed just a unit recovered only had to attend one week, while others who needed a whole credit recovered could attend up to four weeks.

Sydney Ho, a teacher at Topeka West High School, spent four weeks teaching unit and credit recovery algebra I classes - most often to students who were freshmen during the 2020-2021 school year.

In previous years, students would come to Topeka West for summer credit recovery. However, they would work in a computer lab with an adult to supervise them. The ESSER funding allowed teachers to work in-person with students this summer. While students still worked with a computer program to finish their course, teachers were on hand to help.

Every student who showed up and was willing to put in the work was able to regain their algebra I credit, Ho said.

"It took away barriers, and it set them back on the right path to get them ready for their sophomore year," Ho said. "It was definitely good to get kids back in the building. Anything we can do with small, targeted groups - it shows them schools are invested in them."

At Topeka West, eligible students were able to take credit and unit recovery classes in speech, algebra I and II, geometry, and ninth-, 10th and 11th-grade English, said Colin Cathey, an associate principal at Topeka West. The classes were offered June 7 through July 2.

Typically, students are only able to take full recovery classes, not unit recovery. Teachers were able to identify students who showed mastery in over half of a semester but needed help mastering the rest of the class. Those students were eligible to take unit recovery instead of having to take the full recovery course.

That and offering more in-person teachers helped with academic skills, Cathey said.

"I think our teachers really liked it," he said. "I definitely saw this as a benefit. We doubled the number of credits earned in our summer school."

There were 126 students who completed credit recovery and 72 who completed unit recovery, he said.

Michelle Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at McEachron Elementary School, taught Super Science and Space Exploration camps at Topeka High.

"The kids loved it," she said. "We did a lot of hands-on experiments - things you may not have time for in a day-to-day classroom."

Students really enjoyed making slime, rockets and space capsules.

"They were surprised they could do some of the experiments," Johnson said.

Some students started their camp week shy and timid, but by midweek, they were talkative and working together on experiments.

"It was a lot of fun," Johnson said.

Ronda Hoss, who teaches K-5 science at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School, taught coding and robotics to third- through fifth-grade students at the TCALC summer enrichment camp.

"This was more hands-on (than traditional summer school)," Hoss said. "It still focused on academics, but it had more of an enrichment piece to it. The students were learning, but they didn't realize it. They were learning math and critical thinking - and social development."

Like Johnson, Hoss watched as some of her students came to camp shy and withdrawn.

"But by the end of the week, they mixed in," she said. "It was great to see them blossom. Their self-esteem grew. I think the students had a really good time being able to work together. We are already thinking about next year."

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