Summer Learning, A Teacher’s Perspective

E.J. Beucler is a BPS tphoto2eacher completing his second summer at the Sportsmen’s TennisBPS site, which serves 30 middle school students. At this site, students engage in ELA and math instruction in the morning, and in the afternoon apply the new concepts they learned through project based learning activities. We caught up with E.J. to reflect on his students’ summer accomplishments and the overall impact of the Summer Learning Project.

What takeaways or reflections do you have about the SLP at Sportsmen’s Tennis?

What I have found to be such a success is having high quality teachers paired with organizations that provide quality enrichment – it transforms summer school into summer camp. It’s so great to see it come to fruition – kids say things like, “this so much fun”, and “I don’t want this to end.” There are a lot of academics, but it still feels like camp. That is what makes us successful.

We start every day with a morning meeting. We get in a circle and everyone gets a chance to speak and listen to everyone else. We start with some sort of prompt, sometimes specific or general. It sets the tone for the day because everyone is part of the circle and part of a community. Everyone is validated. One thing that changes the culture in SLP versus what traditional school offers. We play a bunch of ice breaker style games that build community. These team building games get the muscles going and wakes up the brain for learning. Toward the end of summer, kids are leading the games and taking on more leadership. We let them take ownership of community time, and it’s awesome to step back and watch that.

We bring the power skills that students need for success into academics. For example, in ELA, we read an article about bullying. We had a class discussion about the power skill of peer relationships and how those relationships help prevent bullying. Or we read a story about a kid from Chicago who came from a poor background, and how he was able to work his way to become successful. The class talked about perseverance. We have continuity throughout the day with the themes of community, leadership, and power skills development; those are all connected.

In afternoon, we have project-based learning. We take the themes of morning and the hard work of morning and take it to the next level. For example, students use measurements from math to build their own cardboard house – includes designing it, painting it, being creative, applying skills from morning. We build in choice for students; that is important for education and important for students who struggle. They will choose the thing they are most interested in and put a lot of effort into it. Student creates drafts of website, edit and approve it, and adults work with them to further edit and make sure website reflects their efforts. Students have choice to pick the art or the web-based work. Students have the choice to do this. Pushes them into what they enjoy.

The program day is jammed pack with ELA, math, peer relationship building, and physical time. We try to take advantage of academics and enrichment to give them a full experience.

How have you seen your middle school students grow academically and socio-emotionally this summer?

Some students have gone from being resistant to learning to now writing 2 or 3-page short stories. A lot of that growth is due to getting over the stigma of summer school and showing them how much they can do if they invest themselves in the work. Sort of positive peer pressure and positive influences – if they see everyone else getting something out it, they invest themselves in it.

We’re building a positive culture – we want you here, and you’ll want to be here too. They turned around really quickly, and some of those same students now are leading morning circles. Positive attention changes dynamic of group. We’re seeing students step up, become leaders, and take accountability for their learning. Positive peer interactions are great to see, we’ve been trying to build a sense of community and accountability. We set the tone of positivity.

What long-term benefits will BPS students gain from this summer experience?

Students have developed a sense of community through the relationships they’ve formed this summer. This sense of community and cooperation will pay dividends when they return to school in fall.  And students who might struggle with ELA and math – the fact that they have worked through project-based learning in those areas will build their academic confidence in the fall.

Students will carry with them the lessons of community and leadership. They will use this as an example of a healthy, positive community.  In ELA for example, we’ve focused a lot on extracting evidence from the text. We’ll read short stories or poetry, have a class discussion, and students write a reflection using language and evidence to back up their arguments. We’ve seen students improve in that area — in the beginning of the summer we needed to remind them to use evidence. Now, at end, students are using evidence in their first drafts.

What impact has this summer had on you as a teacher?

This summer has been a great affirmation of what’s possible if you have a combination of a positive culture, project based learning, quality enrichment, and themes of community and leadership. If you put all of those things in the forefront and they dictate all of your programming, you can blend them into a great learning community. These are all things I’ve wanted to get into one summer; this is the first time bringing it all into one place for 6 consecutive weeks.

What does summer learning mean to you?

Summer learning merges the best of summer camp and summer school. It provides the enrichment kids need, and the academics that will either fill them in on what they need for success or bring them to the next level. We’re fostering athletic and lifelong learning, and healthy living and community. We wish school could be more like this all year round.

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