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In classrooms at Olympic and Kessler elementary schools last week, kindergartners gathered for story time, first graders colored in art projects, second graders sat down to type essays and third graders practiced math with special games.

Although summer vacation officially started for Longview students on June 14, almost 350 elementary students are still attending classes as part of the district’s summer school program.

And changes to the program this year mean students who choose to attend will have a “slightly longer school year” that covers more academic ground than previous summer school sessions, said Amy Neiman, district director of state and federal services.

“We are refining what we’ve done in the past,” Neiman said.

The changes introduced a new schedule and math classes to summer school and were prompted by suggestions from parents and staff, she added.

In previous years, Longview held its elementary summer school program in July, and students attended three weeks of half-day classes focused on literacy. But that schedule didn’t always work well, Neiman said, and attendance usually dropped significantly in the third week.

“Families and staff are on vacation mode in July, so it was sometimes a challenge to get staff here, and it was sometimes a challenge to get students who really needed it here,” Neiman said.

Half days also made finding summer childcare harder for some parents, especially those with kids in several different summer programs, Neiman said. The alternative might be for some families to skip summer school altogether, she said.

So the district decided to “tack summer school onto the end of the school year” and send kids to class for a full day, Neiman said. Longer days also mean students could attend summer school for just two weeks and still log the same amount of hours, Neiman said.

Combined with other minor changes and budget cuts, the new schedule helps brings down some of the costs for the program, Neimans said, estimating that summer school will cost the district about $200,000 to run this year. That’s down $50,000 from last year’s cost.

But the ultimate goal of the new schedule is to get as many of the students who need the extra academic help into the program as possible, Neiman said.

Summer school teachers who worked with the program in the past said they have noticed higher attendance so far this year.

“More kids are here because they haven’t gotten into vacation mode (yet),” kindergarten teacher Shawna Bernard told The Daily News on June 18, the second day of summer school.

Fellow kindergarten teacher Jennifer Hoffman agreed.

“It’s just like going back to school next Monday,” she said. “It helps continue on with what we’ve learned at school, and it gives them that little boost to keep their skills.”

Before, summer school focused solely on boosting students’ literacy skills, Neiman said. But this year students will also get a dose of math.

Math is one of the most challenging subjects for students statewide. Scores on the state math test tend to hover in the high 40% range, while well over half of Washington students consistently pass the English test. Neiman said parents asked the school to add math to summer school to help their children improve their skills.

Bernard said she is “very excited” about adding math to summer school. Her kindergarten students spent their first math lessons grouping and counting dots, she said.

“For some of the kids, they haven’t quite gotten the skills they needed by the end of the school year. This is extra practice for them,” Bernard said. Plus, with smaller class sizes, it’s easier to reach students who need extra support with a subject, she said.

“And they do enjoy the math. It’s more hands-on (than the regular school year) … and they have more of a voice in the lesson because it’s a smaller class,” Bernard said.

Summer school is designed to keep learning fun, even for less popular subjects like math, Neiman said. During summer school, students get more time for recess, more art projects and more game-based learning.

Although teachers track each student’s progress, there are no formal letter grades issued for assignments.

Students called summer school fun because they get three recesses and get to do more art projects than the regular school year.

“I thought it was going to be boring, but now I know it’s actually fun, with art and writing and computers,” said second grader Olyn Strand.

Teachers invite students who “we thought would benefit the most from” extra time with literacy or math, Neiman said. However, students are not mandated to attend.

For the students who do decide to come, summer school is a “prime opportunity to ... catch up and keep learning,” Neiman said.

At the end of the program, students get sent home with books and math games,” Neiman said, so they have the tools to “keep them learning all summer long.”

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