By Collin Brooks
The summer slide won’t be alive for several students in the Washington County School System. The system is providing a free summer school for county students from 8:30 to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, that started on June 12 and will run till July 12.
“We are focusing on making sure that students don’t suffer from the summer slide, that they don’t fall behind,” said Ridgeview Principal Kelley Harrell, who noted that studies say if children don’t read close to eight books during their summer vacation, they may have trouble getting back into gear for the school year.
Harrell said that the program has an emphasis on fun and excitement by using different methods including technology to make sure the kids enjoy themselves.
“We want it to be fun, we want them to want to be here everyday,” Harrell said. “Because if we can get them here, we can prevent that slide from happening. So fun is definitely our main goal and academics fall into that.”
The program at Ridgeview — which is one of seven programs in the system — has a little over 200 students registered and on a given day close to 175 will be present, which is normal with summer vacations and sports camps.
Harrell said that the main focus is providing enrichment and remediation in math and language arts, but it has a focus on fun and making sure the kids want to be inside the classroom everyday.
Every Friday has a STEM-themed activity, which was implemented to try and curb the decrease in attendance that usually found the final day of the work week.
Rising 6th grade Ridgeview student Allie Johnson said that it was fun and she was excited that she will be better prepared for school when it starts back in August.
Johnson said that they have reviewed math that they learned in 5th grade, so that they won’t lag when they move onto more challenging topics.
“It’s just reminding you, so that you won’t be behind when you go into your next grade,” Johnson said. “I really enjoy it.”
Johnson was a student in Jeff Gray’s class. Gray normally teaches 7th and 8th grade social studies at Ridgeview, but during summer school he puts his English and Language Arts to the test.
His class was in the middle of reading, Half Way to the Sky, a book by a Bristol author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The novel tells the story of a girl and her mother who hike the Appalachian Trail. The class reads the book, chapter by chapter, stopping to take a break and walk a few laps around the bus loop for about 15 minutes. The students also have to construct story boards using their Chrome Books to depict different scenes from the story.
The largest group of students that were enrolled in the program at Ridgeview were the elementary age students, especially the 52 rising Kindergartners. That group will walk the hallways for the first time in August and are unaware of many school procedures when they start.
“We love having those little ones here to really get them acclimated to what school is going to be like when they join us in August,” Harrell said.
On Friday, the 4 and 5-year olds were learning about colors and what mixing them will do. Each of the students had a pretzel in hand with a plate of red, yellow and blue splotches of icing. After reading the book, Mouse Paint, the children took it upon themselves to test the little mouses’ methods.
A group that was slightly older built structures with toothpicks and marshmallows, while a group a bit older than them constructed structures with straws, scotch tape and a dixie cup, that was capable of holding up to 50 pennies.
Harrell also mentioned that the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents provides an online service called myOn, which is a service that provides access to thousands and thousands of e-books that children can choose from. For younger children, it will read the book aloud, while the older children are able to read it on their own.
The program allows Harrell to track the number of books that her program is reading and it lets her and the teachers keep up with their books. During the first two weeks of summer school, Harrell said the group of students had completed 1,249 books.
Earlier in the day on Friday, a local milk farmer brought his cow and the kids were able to enjoy treats that similar dairy cows provided.
Gray said keeping the kids interested by any means, is important.
“What happens over the summer is there is just this lag, they start to lose knowledge, really,” Gray said. “So this helps keep them going and they get to read books and meet new friends.”
While technology was present and will be used quite often during the duration of the summer, Harrell said that they also emphasize putting down the technology and using only their brains to figure things outs.
“Technology is such an important tool, but again, it’s a tool, we have to have other things in place. Because our primary goal is student thinking. So we want to make sure they are thinking through processes and we integrate technology to do those things.
“But in some of the projects you saw today, straws and tooth picks, things that our teachers could go out and purchase relatively cheaply. And the students are still having fun and developing plans. It helps them to think through a process.”