Monday, August 28, 2017

The Success of the Summer Stem Academy

For years, we have offered summer school for elementary and middle school students as a way to remediate children who need some extra help in certain content areas.  It’s never been a very popular program with students, especially the older ones.  These are kids who probably did not enjoy the regular school year and classroom setting, and our solution had been to put them back in a classroom over the summer.  We may have been giving students more practice in areas they were weak, but the program was not meaningful to the students.

It was time for a change.

The entire program was restructured to create an experience that would make learning fun and meaningful.  Instead of summer school, the program became the Summer STEM Academy.  The program  focused on science, technology, engineering and math, along with reading and writing.  The eight day academy followed a marine science theme.  Students picked an animal to research and used what they learned to write their very own book.  They took art classes to assist them with their illustrations for the book.  By the last day, students were beaming as they shared the book that they had authored.

All the students were able to participate in an incredible field trip to the Chesapeake Bay.  Along the banks in Hampton, students collected water samples and conducted testing for temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.  IWCS Science Coordinator Heather Greer helped the students analyze their data and describe the health of the bay based on their findings.  Perhaps the best part of the field trip was identifying different types of organisms found in the bay.  Students waded into the water and used seine nets and dip nets to collect fish, crabs, and jellyfish.  They found clams, worms and shrimp, and a few fiddler crabs on shore.  

More significant than their discoveries were their comments about the field trip, and the program itself.  Students were excited, with one stating, “I wish this was school every day.”  One teacher commented on seeing the students filled with joy and how powerful that was for her. 
It wasn’t just about the field trip, but also relationship building by the staff.  They worked as a true team and promoted a caring environment throughout the program.  Students were supported and given an opportunity to learn in a safe setting complete with positive and accountable conversations.
The best testimonials to the success of the Academy is directly from the students and teachers.  I’ve shared some pictures from the program below.    Now we need to make that one students comment a reality:  “I wish school was like this all the time.”