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Washington summer school blends education, culture, fun

August 5, 2018
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In a Thursday, July 26, 2018 photo, Nathan Ojeda, 12, who drew a tree as a metaphor for the life of a chum salmon from birth to spawning, presents a report during summer school. His project was based on the curriculum called "Salmon in the Skagit: Sovereignty and sustainability." (Scott Terrell/Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

BOW, Wash. (AP) — Despite the fact that school is out for the summer, Allen Elementary School has been bustling with activity the past few weeks.

The school has been the hub for the Burlington-Edison School District’s largest summer school program yet, with more than 220 elementary- and middle-school-age kids attending each day.

“It’s been amazing,” said Karla Ayala, one of the program’s coordinators. “They get a second home.”

The summer school, which wrapped up last month, was a partnership between a variety of groups, said David Strich, the district’s 21st Century Community Learning Center coordinator.

“We’re braiding four federal programs to create an inclusive summer experience,” Strich said.

The four-week camp utilized funding and resources from each of the district’s two 21st Century Community Learning Center sites — one at Allen Elementary and one at Lucille Umbarger Elementary — the college-readiness GEAR-UP program, and funds reserved for education of migrant students.

Ayala said each day of summer school is split into two parts: the mornings are about learning and the afternoons are about enrichment.

“We tried to create a camp atmosphere,” said teacher Heidi Herder.

In the mornings, the older children learn about the life cycle of salmon, their importance in the area and how people can help them thrive.

“It was really cool to see how salmons live underwater and how they learn to go back to the headwaters,” seventh-grader Nathan Ojeda said.

As part of that curriculum — called “Salmon in the Skagit: Sovereignty and sustainability” — the students went on a field trip to the Kukutali Preserve and met with Swinomish Indian Tribal Community elders about the importance of salmon to the tribe and efforts to preserve them.

As part of the GEAR-UP program, the students also got to visit college campuses, Program Coordinator Heather Paton said.

“These kids, when we go on college visits, you can hear them say, ‘Oh I want to go here,’” she said. “They’re getting energized. Getting middle school kids to think about college is a pretty tall order.”

During summer school, the younger children learned about Mayan and Aztec cultures, information they then shared with the older children.

“It was like I had little teachers showing me stuff I never knew before,” Nathan said. “We learned about how our ancestors were the greatest engineers.”

Valeria Bernal, 7, learned all about the Aztecs — everything from the dwellings they lived in to their creation story of man being made out of mud.

“It didn’t work out,” Valeria said.

In the afternoons, students got to experiment with sewing, soccer, pinata making and cooking.

“These kids, they can do whatever they want to do,” Herder said.

The summer school also partnered with Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education’s teacher-readiness program called Secondary Education for Equity and Diversity (SEED). The program prepares adults with bachelor’s degrees in areas other than teaching for high school teaching careers with English Language Learner (ELL) certificates.

“I think they’ll all be much better first-year teachers,” said Maria Timmons-Flores, professor of ELL and bilingual education at Western.

The summer school, Timmons-Flores said, provides student teachers with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to have their own class.

“I’m so impressed with the opportunity the program gives to so many students to build community and share experiences and learn,” said Horacio Walker, dean of Woodring. “The impact that has on students is wonderful.”

Outside the rigidity of a normal school day, summer school gives children an opportunity to learn in a different way, Walker said.

Through opportunities such as this, Walker said, SEED students will be more aware of what bilingual students bring to a classroom and the problems they face.

“I think this is a really wonderful learning and life opportunity,” he said.

For the kids, the camp isn’t as much about learning as it is about fun.

“You meet new people every single day,” Nathan said of the drop-in camp. “I have the best teachers I could ask for.”

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Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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