For many students, summer means time off from school. But for an increasing number of Kenai Peninsula youngsters, summer programs offer a mix of recreation and learning.
This past summer, central peninsula programs offered everything from art to zoology for students from preschool to grade 12. Programs emphasize remedial academic assistance, enrichment or just plain fun.
Here is a sampling of this past summer's school offerings:
n Wilderness education: Cook Inlet Academy sponsored wilderness education for junior and senior high school students in June and July. Courses included camping skills, wilderness survival and environmental science. Transferable credits were available in physical education or science.
Organizers and instructors were Gary and Jill Leiter, who teach at the school.
"We hiked over 100 miles and saw eight bears and climbed lots of mountains," said Gary Leiter. "It was quite an adventure for the kids."
A total of 26 students enrolled, from Soldotna and Skyview high schools and home schools in addition to CIA.
Leiter said he is sold on the fun and effectiveness of hands-on learning. He anticipates expanding the program in future summers.
"I think we just found our niche," he said. "As teachers, we felt these kids would learn tons and tons just being outside."
n Youth Fine Arts Institute: The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Kenai Peninsula College, Soldotna Community Schools, the Kennedy Center and the Alaska Center for Excellence in Arts Education worked together to put on the annual arts week for teachers and students at the college campus in June.
The students' program had two parts. Children in preschool through grade six attended day camp with a variety of art workshops. Teens in grades seven through 12 took an evening photography class with professor Gary Freeburg.
This year, about 150 students attended, said Rosie Reeder, director of Soldotna Community Schools.
Next year, organizers plan to expand and offer more classes for older students.
"It is growing by leaps and bounds," Reeder said. "The more we plan, the more they come."
n Summer Camp 2000: This was the latest version of the Soldotna Community School's annual program for children in kindergarten through grade six, held at Soldotna High School.
"This is about the 20th year we have done it," Reeder said.
Class offerings were cooking, fine art, performing art and science and reading. Highlights included swimming, face painting and visiting reptiles from the Imaginarium in Anchorage. About 40 youngsters took part.
Next year, the program may change its schedule to dovetail with the "After the Bell" summer recreation program, affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club, she said.
"We are looking at some new options for kids," she said.
n Read's summer program: Read's Primary School, a small private school in Kenai, offers reading readiness training for children entering kindergarten or first grade. The emphasis is on phonics.
The children attend an hour and a half per day, four days a week, for three weeks. Class size is limited to 15. Thirty students took part in two sessions in June during this, its fifth year, said director Pam Hershberger.
"It's a fun program. We move around and sing songs," she said.
"They learn quite a bit."
Hershberger said she plans to continue the program next summer.
n Title I -- This federal program provides public school funds for extra academic help for low-income students. Several schools around the district provide summer school programs through Title I.
One such program was at Kenai Middle School, which had about 25 students in grades six through eight in class for five weeks starting at the end of May. The concentration was on reading, writing and math, with occasional workshops on social skills, said sixth-grade teacher Joyce Koppert.
The school has done the summer program for three years in a row and hopes to have funding to continue it, she said.
Soldotna Elementary School hosted another Title I program in June that incorporated teacher education as well as classes for youngsters. Called the Primary Literacy Institute, it had five reading specialists who coached and mentored 21 other teachers, most from the peninsula, on the best methods of evaluating and teaching reading.
What made the program unique, said district Reading Specialist Carol VanDerWege, is that the participating teachers worked with 50 children in grades one through three. Everything the teachers learned, they were able to apply immediately in real classrooms.
The students had been selected from the school based on their need for extra help with reading. They received 30 minutes of individualized one-on-one attention from a teacher each day, in addition to group reading activities, arts, crafts and gym.
VanDerWege said the children and the teachers were delighted with the outcome and the district hopes to expand the program if funding is available.
"We are so excited about this," she said. "It was so successful I am really hoping we can fund this in future years."
n After the Bell -- The Soldotna partnership of the Boys and Girls Club, Soldotna Community Schools and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offered recreation programs for the first time this summer for elementary school students.
An affiliated pilot program to offer academic tutoring to high school students did not attract enough teens to get off the ground. Organizers reflected that the demand for such a program may increase dramatically next summer after students have pondered results of the new, state-mandated Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.
Reeder reflected that the summer school options for students are evolving and expanding.
"I think the beauty of this is that kids have so many options," she said.
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