MATTOON — Kayla Simmons has joined many other Mattoon teachers in devoting much of their summer break to helping students recover academically from the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions.
The Williams Elementary School teacher, who leads a multi-age class for first- and second-graders, has been helping with the school district’s expanded summer learning program, which began in early June and will finish in late July.
“I have loved it. I feel it’s the perfect mix of school routine and summer,” Simmons said of the program, which has a half-day morning schedule.
Simmons said she and her students have improved students’ reading and math grades while getting to hang out together.
“They wished it was all day. They were having a good time,” Simmons said.
This program for grades kindergarten through 12th has consisted of a Fifth Quarter session in June focused on credit acquisition and 2020-21 school year essential learning, and an ongoing Jump Start session in July focused on credit acquisition and 2021-22 preparations. Enrollment is voluntary. The district invited at-risk students and then opened enrollment to the rest.
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As the program nears its end, Assistant Superintendent Christy Hild gave an update on July 13 to the school board on academic recovery efforts following the school building closures and remote learning that were temporarily needed early in the pandemic. The update showed that 257 students attended Fifth Quarter at Riddle and Williams elementary schools, 97 at Mattoon Middle School, and 108 at Mattoon High School.
Hild said 89.5% of the elementary school students demonstrated growth in reading level and grade level competencies in Fifth Quarter, 98% of the middle school students demonstrated growth in competencies and successful course completion, and 55% of the high school students completed all their remaining 2020-21 course requirements successfully.
“The investment is paying off. We are seeing a difference,” Hild said of the program, which is being paid for with about $240,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding. This program was preceded by in- and after-school tutoring in the spring.
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Mattoon’s effort has expanded upon the district’s traditional summer school programs in duration and scope. This has included expanding bus transportation options and meal options, which now offer on-site breakfasts and take-home lunches.
“We are trying to remove the barriers to get kids here,” said Rachel Stuart, instructional coach at Williams Elementary. She thanked the teachers for volunteering to work part of this summer, and the building maintenance staff for handling the extra use at school buildings.
In addition, Stuart said Jump Start has expanded to include classes at both Riddle and Williams instead of just one elementary school. She said Jump Start also has invited outgoing Franklin Preschool students to take classes at the elementary schools in preparation for becoming kindergarteners. She said these measures are building student confidence.
At Williams Elementary, incoming fifth-graders Beckett Hild and Griffin McGuire are among the students who have attended both Fifth Quarter and Jump Start.
“I just like hanging out with my friends and doing math and other stuff,” McGuire said, adding that he is a big fan of recess.
Beckett Hild said he has focused on the “education side of things” this summer while still having fun with friends at school. He said he really enjoyed the science activity in which they made paper airplanes and tested how far they would fly, which was more than 42 feet for his group’s plane.
Parent Amber Carrell said her son, Myles, has been attending summer classes at Williams Elementary in preparation for second grade there. She said Myles has had the flexibility to go on summer vacations with their family and has gotten to have his first-grader teacher, Kari Ruppert, as a summer school instructor.
“I think (Myles) has done very well. He has increased in his reading level from where he was at before,” Carrell said. “He likes going to school. He likes the interaction with the other kids and spending time with them and learning. He likes to learn.”