WARSAW — JoElla Smith, principal of Warsaw’s Edgewood Middle School is quick to point out that summer school is no longer about paying a penance for falling short during the school year. Today, attending school for at least part of the summer is about getting a leg up before the next year.
“The idea is to help accelerate learning, improve student learning and get the kids on track and back up with their peers for the best chance of success,” Smith said. “We measure our results and use data to determine if our programs are successful. If they come to summer school, we do know it makes a difference.”
Smith said that Warsaw Community School Corporation’s summer program is an Indiana trend setter.
“We run a huge summer program,” she said. Warsaw Community Schools now offers the third or fourth largest summer program in all of the state. We are the only summer school program that offers options for students in pre-school through grade 12.” Each program at every level is a 15-day offering.
Smith said the pre-school program is specifically designed for students who have never gone to pre-school, but are slated to arrive in kindergarten in the fall. In addition, for children who have not been taught basics like rudimentary numbers and letters, color recognition or the development of social skills at home, the program can help.
The pre-school program helps to arm these youngsters with the basic education and social skills to get acclimated to the classroom environment before that first day of kindergarten.
“They are screened by the three teachers who teach the classes and then those children who could really benefit the most are placed in the program,” said Smith, who added that the program is underwritten through help from The United Way. “The state doesn’t have pre-school funding,” she said.
The program’s kindergarten offering is for those children who have completed kindergarten, but who are not quite ready for first grade.
“We are finding that we can take them up with their peers and even a little above so they don’t start in first grade behind, they actually get that chance to be there right with the rest of them,” she said.
At the next level, students in grades one through three focus on the I Read program. Teachers focus heavily on the first two grades to get them ready for third grade since passing in third grade is required for advancement to fourth grade.
“What we do in first and second grade is we can see students who are not at grade level yet in reading and so we offer a very specific reading program,” Smith said.
“They end up getting an extended school year of 15 days and at the end of that 15 days we have an incredible success rate with those students who take that test. That program puts a lot of pressure on our teachers but they own it and they take care of those kids and that extra instruction really has made a difference.”
The staff at Warsaw’s summer school program have been studying characteristics of the predominant demographics in the grades four through seven group, which focuses on reading, writing and math. By studying past challenges and looking at the population which makes up the majority of the kids in this program, Smith said this program has a new look. Generous funding from Dekko Foundation has helped in the efforts.
“You’ll see a very different fourth through seventh program and I’m hoping you’ll see better behavior, better focus, better instruction, more active engagement and in the end, we’re going to try to include a community event where we can showcase their learning to their parents,” she said. “That fourth through seventh program was challenging us.”
In the top level, Smith said offerings are mostly about helping students gather credits or recover lost credits.
“In high school we offer credit and credit recovery options,” she said. “High school is my largest population, with typically 700 to 800 students in the first session and around 500 in the second. It allows students to accelerate their learning.”
During this program, students are told that attendance is paramount but if they can avoid missing class, full credits can be earned during the abbreviated sessions.
“That is a real motivator for kids to get those things off their schedule so they can take the other classes they want or be a co-op student,” Smith said.
Smith said Warsaw’s summer school programs are open to students from private schools, home school environments and students from other public school corporations.
“In an average summer, my kids who are farthest behind are able to recover three, maybe even four credits.”
Aside from the summer school programs, Smith also oversees the school corporation’s driver’s education program, the summer music program and a summer camp called Art in the Great Outdoors.
This camp will be held July 16-20 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Edgewood Middle School. Smith said applications are being accepted for students currently in grades one through five.