For SL summer school, necessity is mother of ‘Invention’

Friday, April 9, 2021

Storm Lake schools are planning an innovative summer school program for this upcoming season, expecting increased numbers of participants.

The school board this week approved spending approximately $90,000 on curriculum for the summer themed around “Invention,” from Pre-K Partnerships company in partnership with the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Programs called Club Invention and Camp Invention will serve kindergarten through grade 5 students in June and July, and Invention Project will serve grades 6-9 students in July.

About 260 students at the lower grade level are expected to participate in summer school, taking part in fun and learning activities like “Bolder Builders,” “Castles, Catapults and Coat of Arms,” “Flight Sight,” “Passage to Planet ROG,” “Phys Ed: Physics in Motion” and “Trash Island: A Garbage Patch Journey.” About 150 students in Camp Invention will take part in STEM learning modules including “SolarBoy.”

The older students in Invention Project are offered 30 STEM sessions plus Hangout and MOVE components.

“We have a lot of kids coming to summer school, and the staff has less experience with summer school,” Storm Lake Superintendent of Schools Stacey Cole said on the need for the programs. More parents are hearing about the opportunity and calling to add their kids, she said. The schools like the opportunity to keep contact with students over the summer break, keeping learning and social opportunities happening.

With young students confined to “pods” of about 15 peers through the school year due to COVID-19 concerns, there is some social awkwardness to deal with, school officials admits. “They need to get back to seeing everyone and remembering what being social is like,” board member Erika Dierking said.

“We’re excited, this will be a phenomenal thing,” Supt. Cole said. We probably won’t be able to do it forever, but funding is available right now, so we want to look and see how cool it is.”

Her biggest fear, she noted, is that the district may fall in love with the program and not be able to afford to continue it in future years.

Summer offerings are also being expanded for high school students. Headed into the 2021 season, SLHS has pushed the options from nine to 12 summer classes offered. In addition to standard classes in things like math and social studies, a poetry class is offered and is already underway outside school hours, to run into summer. A class is being arranged to run opposite to the baseball/softball schedule so students in those sports can take part. Two Buena Vista University staff members will be teaching a psychology class aimed at students who hope to pursue college athletics. A building and trades summer class in construction skills will take place for the first time, accommodating students who haven’t been able to fit the school year version of the class into their schedule. An extra Spanish class is being added to help students catch up, as they have had limited opportunity to speak the language during last year’s quarantine if they didn’t have another Spanish speaker at home. Open gym will be offered for all students who are on track to graduate on time (students who are short credits must also take academic offerings in order to utilize the open gym.)

For high schoolers, summer school isn’t just a chance to catch up on subjects where they need extra help. Some students can use the opportunity to earn required credits in core areas, which will allow them more time to focus on career or vocational learning during the school year, a goal Senator Chuck Grassley stressed while visiting the high school this week.

“We have to maximize every hour we have with them,” Supt. Cole said.

Staffing for summer school is nearing completion, she told the school board this week. The district adopted an idea from the Waterloo schools, and is incorporating some college students in the teaching field. BVU has a program this year allowing some students to continue living on campus through the summer, which allows education students to take part. A few Storm Lake alumni studying at Iowa State University or the University of Northern Iowa are also being incorporated for the summer.

Cole said the strategy is not just staffing, but to “see who the up and coming teachers will be” and to begin recruiting them toward possible district positions in the future. At the same time, it gives the college students valuable experience and a chance to see if classroom teaching is really of them.

“We’re going to get it done and offer something really cool to our kids this summer,” Cole said. “There are a lot of people involved, it takes a lot of coordination - I’m not going to lie, it’s been a lot, but it’s going to be great.”