Summer education program pilot starts Monday

Four-week program will last 10 hours a day
Kindergarten teacher Kate Gerwin talks with Sara Schneller before a webinar at Pleasant Valley Elementary School on Friday.
Kindergarten teacher Kate Gerwin talks with Sara Schneller before a webinar at Pleasant Valley Elementary School on Friday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Around 650 elementary school students will head back to class Monday for a four-week long summer enrichment program, an initiative district officials hope will go districtwide next year.

The program – hosted at Paige, Pleasant Valley and Martin Luther King elementary schools – will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday through Aug. 4, with lessons and activities blending academics, arts and recreation. Kids will receive transportation and three meals during the program.

At the heart of the summer program are two prime goals: offer parents a place to send their kids over the summer, and work to stanch the “summer slide” that disproportionately sets low-income students back during the summer, as their wealthier peers continue to progress academically.

Program planners are looking to offer students something different than the regular school year – more of a summer camp vibe. To that end, the program will hook the academics to a pair of web-based programs, one for math and one for literacy. There is also an effort to round up laptops from around the district so each student in the program gets one. Other activities will also be infused into the 10-hour days.

“We want this to have balance between academics and activities but where it feels different than a school day,” said Patty Paser, assistant to the superintendent and an administrative point person on the summer program. “We looked at the needs of students and the needs of parents to support them through summertime.”

Smaller than the regular school year, the summer program class sections will range from 12 to 14 students, Passer said. Each room will have a teacher and teacher’s aide.

Each of the three sites will also have a school nurse, two reading specialists, two special education teachers, two social workers and the ability to support English language learners. Each site will be led by a supervisor, two of whom come from outside the district and all of whom hold administrative certificates, though they have not previously overseen the operations of a school building, Paser said.

The program, which costs around $1.2 million, is funded with unused grant money and includes a staff of nearly 140. That includes roughly 30 teachers per site, with some working half-day shifts and others working full-day shifts. But Paser estimated that more than half of the teachers were from outside the district – even as all district candidates were given positions.

Juliet Benaquisto, president of the district’s teachers union, said the program’s fast development late in the year and other conflicts may have hampered more district teachers from signing up for the program.

In the planning for next summer, Benaquisto said, officials will need to balance the timing of the summer program with teacher training sessions. Some district teachers aren’t looking for summer work, or have a different summer job, but for those who are available, a district program is a top option, she said.

“If (union) members are inclined to work over the summer … they are going to be happy to work for the district — to work with the kids,” Benaquisto said.

While registration for the program was open to all students entering first through seventh grade in the fall, limited capacity means the district still has a wait list of about 100 students. District officials sought proportional representation from all district elementary schools, as they signed up families.

Sara Schneller, the district’s school turnaround specialist, has been answering parents’ questions and concerns ahead of Monday’s start. She said parents have expressed concern with the length of the day but are excited for the support — like transportation and meals.

“You can see the pieces for them start to fall in place, and they are grateful,” Schneller said.

Districts say if state lawmakers continue to boost the district’s funding next year, those pieces may fall in line for far more Schenectady parents.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Larry Spring set an ambitious timeline for ramping up the program, telling board members he hoped next year the summer program would be open to “as many elementary kids as parents want to engage in that program.”

To get there, district officials will take lessons learned over the coming month and lay out plans for a scaled-up program soon after this summer’s program is complete, Paser said.

“It starts Aug. 5,” he said of planning for next year’s summer program.

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