The second year of Schenectady school district’s summer enrichment program saw more than 1,000 elementary students spend a bulk of their vacation in school – and on playgrounds and in swimming pools.
After interest spiked – around one-third of the district’s elementary students applied for a spot in the monthlong summer program – the district accepted more than 1,000 students to fill spots at four schools, up from 650 students last summer.
Spending 10 hours at school each day, the students – selected based on their academic needs – worked on math and reading skills, participated in recreation activities and were provided with three meals a day.
School board members were laudatory of the program when district officials presented results from the program at an Aug. 15 meeting. And the program appears primed to serve as the foundation of the district’s summer offerings in coming years.
“Regardless of data, we took 1,000 kids and we put them, for four weeks, in an educationally stimulating environment, in a socially stimulating environment, in a physically enriching environment, [and] we fed them three times a day,” board member Mark Snyder said at the August board meeting. “And I think, most importantly, we showed them that school is fun. … Data aside, that is a success.”
Parents were also supportive of the program in a survey conducted after the program finished. Parents reported they would participate in the program again next summer, if given the chance.
“No one said no yet,” Aaron Bochniak, one of the program’s organizers, said of parents' responses to returning to the program. “So that’s pretty good.”
About 76 students were allowed into the program as the four weeks went on, replacing other students who dropped out for various reasons. Student attendance slid gradually over the course of the program, falling from 83 percent in the first week to 72 percent in the final week.
Bochniak said some parents had scheduled vacations during the month of the program, not realizing they were expected to commit to four weeks if they joined. He told the school board that parents asked for more details about what students were up to during the day, and that the 10-hour days cut two ways, with some families appreciating the length and others feeling it was on the longer side.
“The kids that participated, the families that participated last year really saw the value in it -- had fun doing it -- so we really saw that increase,” said Sara Schneller, another program organizer, of the increased interest in the program this summer.
It’s not clear how the program will change next year, but officials said they are already planning. Organizers of other youth summer programs in Schenectady have said it would be helpful to all youth providers if the district outlined its summer plans sooner in the year. Superintendent Larry Spring has said his goal is to host a summer program that accommodates all of the district’s elementary students.
The district’s summer program also serves as an incubator of sorts to give teachers a chance to experiment with new teaching methods and to give prospective administrators a chance to lead a school. In some cases, teachers from outside the district hired to work in the summer program have applied and been accepted to year-round jobs with the district.
“[It’s] helping us to make that shift to what instruction should be like,” Spring said of shifting the teaching to focus more on projects and solving problems. “To help staff feel safe to take that leap during the school year means giving them an opportunity like this, where they can try it out and gain some skill.”