‘Outside the box’ learning at Summer School

Experimentation for both students and teachers increases learning outcomes in School District 72

The co-principals of this past summer’s Summer School session are thrilled with how many parents and students are taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them by the district outside the regular school year.

They’re also excited about how the instructors who raise their hands to teach these summer programs push the learning model in interesting ways.

About 10 per cent of learners in School District 72 took Summer School programs this past summer, co-principals Chris Hayduk and Rob Hatfield told the Board of Trustees at a recent public meeting, and they got a unique and beneficial learning experience, thanks to the teachers who made it happen.

Hayduk, who has worked in Summer School programs in three different school districts, told the board that when they started preparing for this years’ Summer School, they began by getting teachers to send in proposals for courses they’d like to teach over the summer.

“We wanted them to be as creative as possible,” Hayduk said. “We wanted them to try things that the normal structures of everyday school might be in the way of, but that in the summer we aren’t restricted by.”

What they ended up with were unique and engaging programs that blended subjects and used interesting methods to introduce or reinforce concepts.

“We had things like Drama and Storytelling, Imagination in Literacy, Rockets Arithmetic and Recreation, Cooking Numeracy and Literacy – these are just the titles,” Hayduk said. “When you walk into the middle of these courses, it’s just amazing. I haven’t seen this in the other districts I’ve worked in.”

Hatfield agreed.

“Kids look at these courses and just think they’re interesting and fun,” he told the board. “They’re learning math, but they’re learning it while they’re building rockets. Or they’re learning writing skills, but they’re bringing Lego to school and doing stop-motion animation to bring those stories to life.”

And the kids weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the twist on traditional learning methods. Teachers, too, said they loved the opportunity to explore and push the boundaries of the model.

Hayduk said the comment that struck him the most – and represented what he was hearing from teachers in general – was when “a very experienced teacher, who was just having a blast, told me, ‘I need to see how I can make this my normal job.'”

Hatfield echoed that sentiment.

“Summer school takes advantage of that unstructured time that kids have in the summer, and we can use that to provide learning opportunities for students that are creative and might different from what they might experience in the classroom throughout the year,” Hatfield said.

The feedback Hatfield received from teachers was that “they enjoyed being able to teach more engaging programs,” and being able to “think outside the box” in preparing those programs. He added that teachers also expressed to him that Summer School was a much more “relaxed but focused environment, and they really appreciated the added attention they were able to give to students because of the small class sizes.”

Assistant Superintendent Nevenka Fair said she thinks the experimentation being done by teachers in the summer translates to better learning outcomes throughout the rest of the year, as well.

“They are beginning to integrate the academics with the non-academics more in summer school, and it really is matching the direction where the curriculum is going in the regular classroom,” Fair said. “I think teachers are experimenting in Summer School more and more, and that’s great, because the benefits of that experimentation is then being transferred into the regular classroom.”

“We’re already excited for next year,” Hayduk told the board, offering a few recommendations for moving forward.

“We’re excited to continue to encourage the creative spark that the teachers showed us this year and spread that idea as far as we can,” he said, but he is hoping some of the administrative and bureaucratic aspects of Summer School can get ironed out, soon, particularly in terms of registration.

He’d like to see the registration bureaucracy simplified, perhaps making online registration available for parents and eliminate the “administrative headaches that come with needing to move so much paper around.”

He’s also like to see an increase in middle-school offerings going forward and see more of the teachers in the high school programs add more experimentation into their Summer School offerings, as the elementary teachers have been doing.

“A lot of the high school teachers were like, ‘Oh, I can teach what I taught the rest of the year and just condense the timeline,'” Hayduk said. “So now we need to look at, ‘What can we do to give them a bit more leeway and have more fun with what they’re doing?'”

It will come, Hayduk said. They just have to continue to encourage it.

And they will.

More information about Summer School is available here.