Despite the calendar, students hit the books

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002

School may be out for the summer, but the learning is far from over.

Every day, dozens of students are streaming into the classrooms at select schools around the peninsula for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's first districtwide summer school program.

Whether they are there to make up lost time or catch up on basic skills, the students' June mornings are filled with the fundamentals.

"It's a good way for kids to get some basic skills and continue what is going on in the school year," said Gregg Wilbanks, administrator of the program at the Kenai Alternative High School and Aurora Borealis Charter School building in Kenai.

In one alternative school classroom, teachers Marty Shirley and Laura MacDonald, helped by two aides getting ready for their student teaching semesters, guide a group of about 12 middle and high school students through three different learning stations.

"Where else do you have four educators for 12 kids?" Wilbanks asked.

At one table, students use a Scrabble-like board to practice phonics awareness. In the back, a group listens to words on computers, working on distinguishing different sounds. Another group works through a reading exercise, identifying story plot, theme and comprehension.

The students also have writing exercises and discussion periods to build up their communication skills.

"We're trying to work on all aspects of reading," said MacDonald.

Across the hall, Debbie Brophy and Ann McLain work on math skills with upper-grade students. The course began with a basic skill assessment test, and Brophy guides students through individualized computer lessons. Next door, McLain gives pencil-and-paper lessons on basic trouble spots.

Fractions, decimals and percentages, for example, are areas McLain said most students need extra help. The low teacher-student ratio gives her an opportunity to work one-on-one with students to deal with those snags.

On the other side of the building, another group of teachers provides an intensive reading program for younger children, mostly in grades two and three.

They spend time reading to children, listening to children read and working on exercises in small groups. Thursday morning, special education teacher Laura Lawrence guided two children through an exercise to identify all words on a page with "i" in the middle.

"Most mistakes are not the first letter," she said. The exercise helps train students to read all the way through the words.

Later, she will read the last chapter of a book the group has been following, asking comprehension and memory questions along the way. She then will have the students read a slightly easier text to her.

"I came in thinking, 'What could we possibly do in 20 days?'" said Anne McCabe, who serves as an aide in Shirley and MacDonald's upper-grade reading class and will spend a semester student-teaching a fourth-grade class at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary this fall.

"I've seen huge jumps in progress."

"It's not easy to come to summer school, to give up the summer, but they're doing well," added Shirley. "We try to make it fun, relaxing and still make progress. We are seeing a lot of progress."

As well as the kids are doing, though, Wilbanks pointed out that the summer program is an opportunity for teachers to learn, too.

In building trades, he said, professionals always interact and watch each other work. Teachers, however, don't have the opportunity to watch one another teach and share ideas.

The summer program puts together many teachers who have never worked together and thrives on collaboration.

"It's sort of a summer institute for teachers. They work with different programs, different grade levels. They're working together and just hit the ground running," Wilbanks said.

"It's tough to make up in one month skills students have been missing for years and years, but they're making a darn good attempt. The students are motivated and working hard, and that's because the teachers are well prepared."



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