This Eagle County summer camp helps keep kids engaged and school-ready after the pandemic put students behind

Never fear, the summer teacher, Paul Witt, is here.

“So, remember our formula is , that funky number, 3.14, times the radius… radius is the measure of the center of the circle outwards, then we have to calculate the radius times ourselves,” explains Witt, who also teaches mathematics. during the normal school year.

These boys, who are going into fifth grade next fall, are in summer camp, one heavily colored with academics, an increasingly common sight in Colorado after years of pandemic interruptions, isolation and online learning has a significant number of students academically left behind. Ninety-three of the state’s 178 districts have budgeted federal COVID-19 funds for this summer.

The boys smile broadly as they learn from , excited about this “secret” piece of information that unlocks answers. “Opera Plains” is actually a concept they may only learn in seventh grade. Witt keeps the summer camp interesting – does revision exercises for those who need to catch up – but also introduces new concepts to build self-confidence.

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Mathematics teacher Paul Witt explains the formula for finding the area of ​​a circle to (l to r) Tabor Huber, Tegan Noteware and Leo Aguero. Witt noted that the pandemic caused some students to lose basic foundation skills, such as multiplication facts and remember how to carry and borrow numbers by adding and subtracting.

Summer camp helps students catch up after the pandemic returns

He noted that the pandemic caused students to lose basic skills – such as multiplication facts, or to remember how to carry or borrow numbers when adding or subtracting. Not having easy access to peers also delayed learning.

“Kids learn from each other and help each other just as much as the teachers sometimes do, and I think they missed that whole piece too,” said Heidi Press, one of the district’s special education coordinators.

For 10 days – or 20 if they sign up for two summer sessions – students in the mountainous Eagle County School District covering towns such as Minturn, Gypsum and Beaver Creek are refining skills lost during the pandemic and learning new ones. . School officials say literacy suffered the most during the pandemic – they see the biggest impact on current second and third grade.

But 10-year-old Mariana Gonzalez Diaz said reading is not a problem for her.

“When reading, I like to read, but I really struggled with math, because I’m like, ‘I do not understand this stuff!’ she exclaims. “Sometimes at school I might still struggle, but I feel like summer school really helps me learn a lot about more things.”

Her friend Scarlett Soto, 11, adds: “Next year I’m probably going to do much better.”

Students who need additional one-on-one support can get it at this camp.

“Last year because of COVID, we had kids with huge learning deficits – we wanted to make sure we had as many students as possible,” said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, a district assistant superintendent.

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Mariana Gonzalez Diaz, 10, reads a graphic novel during independent study time. She enjoys reading and said summer camp expands her vocabulary and improves her math.

Collaborating with a non-profit organization helps the camps get more money for their money

Summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students will cost the district about $ 416,000 this year. But an additional $ 753,000 comes from a partnership with YouthPower365, an education initiative of the Vail Valley Foundation. The organization has been working with the district for summer camps for a decade, but the post-pandemic camps have taken on greater significance.

About 600 students signed up for this year’s camps. Rewold-Thuon gives credit to the well-known YouthPower365, which relies almost entirely on donations. The non-profit organization manages preschool and after-school programs and internships for area youth. More than half of Eagle County district’s students are students of color; more than a third are English language learners.

“There is a lot of trust with the families and therefore the families are sometimes afraid of an institution, possibly as some of our families may have immigration or other kinds of worries, they are not afraid to liaise with the non-profit organization,” Rewold- Thuon said.

YouthPower365 has personally reached out to families if the school is having difficulty enrolling students. They targeted students who were struggling academically, and those who would otherwise not be able to attend a camp.

“Eighty percent of children this summer will pay absolutely nothing to be part of the camp,” said Sara Amberg, executive director of YouthPower365.

The district and YouthPower365 have adapted the program this year to meet the high level of need among students. The district used federal COVID-19 funds to hire reading and math specialists for more intensive one-on-one support.

Amanda Ballentine is one of them. Typically a special education teacher, his students meet individually throughout the day for additional support. One morning, she helped her two sons read a book about fishing with Grandpa. They work on vocal sounds, sight words and make predictions to help them develop into more fluent readers.

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Amanda Ballentine, a special education teacher during the regular school year, wanted to be an interventionist at the summer camp to help children with reading. “It was nice to be recognized for a certain set of skills they wanted.”

“Grandpa and…” read one boy. Ballentine interrupts gently and gives a hint, making the sound for the letter “p” three times.

“P. p. P… pon… ”the boy tries.

“Puts,” says Ballentine, “… sits a … what does he sit?”

“A worm!” says the boy.

Each child is monitored throughout the school year so that the summer teachers know where each student’s shortcomings are and where they need to grow.

This year, the summer school attracted many more experienced teachers like Ballentine. A reason? Teachers’ salaries have been increased to $ 40 an hour. YouthPower365 pays three-quarters of the wage – along with transportation, lunch and snacks – the district covers the rest. But there were other reasons why Ballentine took the summer action.

“I just love working in the summer, it’s the same as the kids, if you do not keep it, you forget a little bit about it,” she laughed. “Otherwise it makes the beginning of the school year so much more difficult.”

In addition, Eagle County students with greater needs, those with special education plans, are part of the summer camp with other children for the first time this year.

“It’s a true integration model,” the district’s Rewold-Thuon said.

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Ximena Carrillo, 7, reads a book in Spanish. She said it was difficult to learn how to read during the pandemic and came to the summer camp because: “I do not want my reading to slow down,” she said.

Summer camp is more than stopping the summer slide

Teachers try to expose the children to art, language and extracurricular activities, “but also what can we do to make it fun and make school fun, you know, I brought my own books from home, to be like ‘It’s my favorite to read,’… let’s just cherish a love of learning and reading, ”Ballentine said.

Ximena Carrillo, 7, likes to read about mammals – in fact all animals. She spends a lot of time recording the books in English and Spanish in her summer camp classroom. Carrillo her own reasons for attending summer school.

“Because I did not want my reading to slow down,” she said.

She pauses when asked how she thinks about how camping will help her in second grade.

“I think it will help me concentrate,” she said.

Her second-degree literacy teacher Saira Hernandez says the class size of 13 (“It’s a dream,” she said.), And the more imaginative summer curriculum make it easier to have an impact on each student. This year’s theme is dragons. It is not as strict and structured as the regular school year.

“I want them to see they’re still learning, but they’re having fun,” Hernandez said.

At any given time, about five of her students are pulled out of class for more specific one-on-one support. Her students start next year in the second grade.

“Some of them are (academic level) still at the end of kindergarten, maybe at the beginning of first grade,” Hernandez said. ‘Some of them you can say they were exposed to books at home (during the pandemic), but the majority, not much.

Fourth and fifthgrade math teacher Paul Witt noticed another pandemic impact – a decline in perseverance. He said learning at home made it easy for children to say, “I can’t do this. While there is both peer pressure in the classroom and some teacher pressure to keep working and keep trying. ”

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Oscar Lopez (9) tries to connect nine dots with four lines without lifting the pin off the board. The summer camp math class also gives students independent time to work on math-related problems.

Oscar Lopez (9) is an example of this. It’s now free time in math class. At the whiteboard, he is trying a centuries-old math brain teaser: Join nine dots with four straight lines without lifting the pen. He has been trying since the beginning of the summer camp.

“I think I did it, I did it!” he shouted.

“You have?” asked Witt. “Yes!” says Lopez.

Ahh… but it turns out he missed one point that was accidentally smeared off the board.

“You’re so close,” Witt says sympathetically, giving him a hint to “think outside the box.”

Lopez promised to keep trying to stay home that night.

KPR / Jenny Brundin
Reading Intervention Amanda Ballentine helps a student distinguish sounds, letters, and words during a “pull-out” session where students receive one-on-one support during summer camp.

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