First day of Schenectady schools summer program brings chance to learn and empty seats

Student attendance falls short as district kicks off summer enrichment program
Teacher Heidi Schults- Estrada leads a class at the summer enrichment program at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
Teacher Heidi Schults- Estrada leads a class at the summer enrichment program at Mont Pleasant Middle School.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Payton Letlough plans to be ready for fifth grade when school starts back up in September. This summer she is even learning from a fifth-grade teacher at Howe Elementary School.

“My mom says I’m gonna like it because in fifth grade I’m gonna know a lot of this,” Payton said Monday, the first day of Schenectady City School District’s summer enrichment program.

Payton cut directly to the goal of the district’s summer program which, through research and service projects and computer-based math and literacy programs, aims to boost student learning over the summer, months that have historically been a time of academic regression for many Schenectady students.

“You just know you are ready for fifth grade,” Payton said of her top goal for the summer.

Payton and her classmates in Heidi Shults-Estrada’s class for rising fifth-graders on Monday began research on tourism in Paris, Los Angeles and Disney, part of a project that will culminate in a tourism campaign for Schenectady.

At Mont Pleasant Middle School, dozens of students played basketball and Hula Hoop in the gym – a smaller number braved the warm temperatures to throw a Frisbee on the football field. Another group of students were introduced to a variety of service projects they will work on throughout the summer, including an expansion of a kitchen garden in the school’s courtyard and painting murals throughout the school.

“You guys are the community, we are making artwork with you. You are the inspiration,” teacher Sarah Maguire told a group of rising sixth-graders at Mont Pleasant as she explained the murals project. “You are going to be here for three years, so I want you to have a say.”

Empty seats

Student attendance on the first day of the summer program, however, appeared to fall far short of the over 1,200 students who were accepted into the program. Sara Schneller, the district’s school improvement supervisor and point person for the summer program, said she hadn’t yet run the attendance numbers for the first day but that students in classes throughout the district didn’t make it to the first day. Some teachers reported about half of their class rosters showing up Monday.

“It’s one of the things we have to get a handle on,” Schneller said of student attendance.

Schneller said staff at the different schools would contact families Monday afternoon and Tuesday to see why the students weren’t in class on Monday and encourage them to show as soon as possible. If families don’t respond and students continue to miss class, those seats will go to students on the waiting list – which has around 200 students on it who had applied for the summer program but didn’t make the initial cut.

Schneller said students may have missed class for a variety of reasons and that she wants to give families a chance to get the students to school, but she also said she doesn’t want seats to go empty while other families wait to see if they can get off the waiting list. She said she hopes to make calls to families on the waiting list Tuesday and begin to fill seats by Wednesday.

“‘Are you coming?’” Schneller said of reaching out to the families of students who missed Monday. “We are happy you are here, if you are here; if not there are other [students] who want to be here.”

Students who were in attendance for the first first day met their teachers and were introduced to projects they will work on over the next month. The classes are set at 12 to 15 students, significantly smaller than during the school year, and teachers work to foster a feeling that the summer program is different from the regular school year, pushing more of a summer camp feel.

“I say don’t worry it’s a little more laid back,” said Lauren Quinn, a social studies and English language arts teacher who is teaching a class of rising seventh-graders this summer. “I don’t want them to feel like it’s regular school.”

On Tuesday, students will start weekly swim lessons and visits to Central Park. For some students, those pool days can’t come soon enough.

“I wish I was in the swimming pool,” said Ramnauth Basant, who will be a seventh-grader in the fall, as he played in the gym Monday. “It’s hot.”

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