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‘You Can See the Joy of Learning’

Centreville Elementary’s unconventional summer school.

Teacher Lucia Park and some of the rising fifth- and sixth-graders who learned about estimation and measurement while making parfaits.

Teacher Lucia Park and some of the rising fifth- and sixth-graders who learned about estimation and measurement while making parfaits. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

— In one room, students learned about measurement and density by making parfaits. Others were busy reading, some were doing science experiments and others were creating crystals. And in the hallway, a group of children were making roller coasters on the walls.

What was happening, July 15-Aug. 2, four hours/day, at Centreville Elementary in no way resembled boring, summer-school programs of the past. These students were having fun while learning things they’d need to succeed in school and in life.

It was called the Summer Scholars Enrichment Program and, said fourth-grade teacher Mary Ann Settlemyre, “We’ve taken a different stance on what summer school is. It’s a hands-on learning experience using technology, problem-based learning and experimental design with a focus on cooperative, creative and critical-thinking skills.”

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Jasmine Fazel, 7, reads “Look Out, Jack, the Giant is Back,” with teacher Michelle Fleischman.

First, though, school counselor Lee Kaiser and the teachers set the tone each day by greeting the children at the door as they arrived and giving them high fives. Then they’d all sprint to the school blacktop, while cheerful music played, and gather by grade level to solve a fun problem.

For example, they’d have to move a hula hoop around a circle while holding each other’s hands and not letting the hoop touch the ground. Or sixth- and first-graders would work together to keep a beach ball in the air, or sit back-to-back and stand up together without using their hands.

“The focus is on fun cooperation and physical and 10-15 minutes of mental activity,” said Kaiser, shortly before the program ended. “It gets their mind and body jumpstarted in the morning.”

Settlemyre said the staff emphasized what the students did to be successful and what they needed to do to improve. She said the exercises also created “a sense of community. I’ve watched relationships and connections grow between the different ages and grades, as well as the children’s care and concern for each other.”

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From left: Kelly Bui, Kailey Clawes and Elijah Foster had fun at Centreville Elementary’s Summer Scholars Enrichment Program.

Nearly 80 students — 41 percent ESOL — attended. Every morning, children in each classroom played games and discussed what they’d do that day. “We give them room to laugh and play,” said Settlemyre. “Our goal is for them to have a good time at school, enjoy being here and learn. It also helps them transition from home to school again in September.”

In the realm of science, rising fifth- and sixth-graders tested water samples from the school stream, plus tap and bottled water to determine the nitrate/phosphate levels in each. Since they were studying solutions to water and air pollution, they did tests to determine the current situations.

“The students at this summer program are those who usually find school hard, but not this summer,” said Settlemyre. “By using science to teach math and reading, they’re engaged and excited. They see a reason to learn this information.”

ESOL teacher Kelly Baugh said the program’s hands-on nature captures their interest. “There’s an enthusiasm — they’re enjoying the learning process,” she added. “And we’re all building relationships with each other that are crucial to carrying over that community and love of learning into the school year.”

Settlemyre said they’d continue these ideas throughout the year. For example, students did both standard and metric measurements, and they learned reading and writing skills while reading and writing about their science experiments.

“So it’s all integrated, and many of them are learning reading and math without even realizing it,” said Settlemyre. “And it’s a beautiful thing when you can see the joy of learning on every student and teacher’s face.”

Noting Principal Dwayne Young’s support, she said he gave the 12 Summer Scholars teachers the money and freedom to design a “meaningful and purposeful” program. One teacher even assessed students’ reading skills, unpaid, on her own time, and five teacher cadets from Centreville High volunteered their talents, too. And on the last day, parents came to see their children’s progress firsthand.

“The teachers also learn new skills because they choose to learn how to do things differently,” said Settlemyre. “Remediation hasn’t given kids the skills they need fast enough, so we’re giving them enrichment. And we’re seeing math and reading growth, plus critical thinking, come into play. The students are analyzing everything, graphing data and seeing how to do things better. It’s just amazing. They’re also learning how to be leaders, which we hope they’ll continue.”

Initially, said Kaiser, “They weren’t excited to come to summer school. But after participating, I haven’t found a single kid that hasn’t loved it. We build excitement in them and show them learning can be fun.”