2017-08-11 / Schools

Kids let off a little STEAM while learning

About 70 attend PVSD’sfirst free summer classes
By Hector Gonzalez


ACADEMIC ENRICHMENT—Aurelia Fernandez, 8, shows her mom, Sherry, some of the science, technology, engineering, arts and math projects she completed during summer school at the Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts on Aug. 4 in Camarillo. 
MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers ACADEMIC ENRICHMENT—Aurelia Fernandez, 8, shows her mom, Sherry, some of the science, technology, engineering, arts and math projects she completed during summer school at the Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts on Aug. 4 in Camarillo. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers “Wow! You did all this?”

Dominic Yate’s mom sounded genuinely surprised as her fourth-grader showed her the solar oven he fashioned out of cardboard and aluminum foil, along with the rest of the projects he built this summer.

“Yep,” the proud 8-year-old said Aug. 4, spreading his handmade crafts out on a desk.

It was the final day of a three-week academic enrichment program at Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts in Camarillo, and Dominic and about 70 other third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were excitedly showing and telling their parents what they’d learned.

“We did zoology,” Dominic said. “We did chef-ology, physiology, and we learned about animals.”

Little did he know, but Dominic was among a relatively tiny group of California public school students who attended free academic enrichment programs this summer. Many districts have eliminated their summer programs due to funding cuts in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008.

Fee-based educational programs were easier to find this summer, but most were expensive. Walnut Unified School District, for instance, charged a $475 fee for its six-week summer enrichment program, and California State University Northridge offered summer academic programs for middle and high school students whose parents paid up to $700 for the three-day sessions.

Not all families can afford those costs, and low-income children often wind up falling behind their more affluent peers in reading by the end of the fifth grade as a result of summer learning loss, according to the National Summer Learning Association.

There are other downsides to idle summers. An Ohio State University study found that children gain pounds faster over the summer, two to three times faster than during the school year.

At Pleasant Valley School District, it took several components coming together to allow the district to offer its first free summer enrichment program, including a donation from the Camarillo- Somis Pleasant Valley Lions Club that covered the cost of breakfast and snacks for the children, Superintendent Angelica Ramsey said.

The total cost of the program came to just under $52,000, she said.

“We used our donation account for the program,” Ramsey said. “Donations come from community organizations and individuals.”

Students were selected for the summer program by their teachers, based on economic need, Ramsey said. But the 17,200-student district could offer summer learning to only a fraction of the 2,000 or so of its students who receive free and reduced-price meals.

Around the state, summer learning programs have made a steady but slow comeback in public schools since 2008, according to a study by nonprofit research group Edsource.

In May of last year, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson re-emphasized the need for summer enrichment, releasing his “summer learning vision statement” that by 2020 “all students across California will have access to high-quality summer learning opportunities.”

Torlakson is also co-sponsoring Summer Matters, a statewide initiative to create and expand students’ access to educational programs in the summer.

In a news release in June, the state schools chief said districts need to develop public-private partnerships “to increase the overall funding pool” to pay for summer enrichment programs. Some districts use a combination of private partnerships and Title I funding, federal dollars earmarked for low-income and special needs students, to pay for summer learning programs.

For its summer program, PVSD partnered with Olimpico Learning, a Silicon Valley company that developed the curriculum. The program uses hands-on projects to explain lessons in science, technology, engineering, art and math, the STEAM subjects.

“In the first week we did physiology, so we made a 3-D lung model,” fourth-grade teacher Kaitlyn Fargo said. “We made a model of the heart, and the kids blew through straws to show how the blood pumps through the body. In the last week the kids had so much fun—it was zoology week. We had a group come in that brought in a kangaroo, a skunk—a bunch of different animals— and we talked about how to protect the environment.”

Overall, the program represented a small but important step toward someday offering free summer enrichment to all PVSD students, Ramsey said.

“It’s the community stepping in to fill the (funding) gap and the kids getting quality hands-on learning in science, technology and math,” she said. “Plus, they get a nice nutritious meal to start their day. For me, that’s what this is all about.”

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