The Payson Unified School District will offer a two-week summer school session for students in grades kindergarten through eighth, thanks to the last gasp of a federal stimulus grant.
The school board last week hastily approved plans for the session when the district got word it had landed the $46,000 federal grant.
“I think it’s great, I’m very excited,” said board member Barbara Underwood.
Because it’s coming from federal Title I funds, only students enrolled in the free and reduced school lunch program are eligible for the five-hour daily session, which includes breakfast and lunch.
About half of the students in the 2,500-pupil district are enrolled in the federally subsidized lunch program, mostly restricted to students from families with incomes just above the federal poverty rate. The district hopes several hundred will sign up for the summer classes.
The grant will pay the salaries for 18 teachers, six aides, meals and transportation. The class sessions will focus on bolstering students’ skills in reading and mathematics.
Students can take advantage of small class sizes and an intensive focus on key skills. The district immediately started casting about for regular district teachers who will sign up for the extra session at a rate of about $20 an hour.
The grant includes money to run buses to pick up kids and deliver them to the summer session at the middle school.
In addition, the district got a federal grant to offer summer school classes for the roughly 400 homeless kids in the district, which includes almost any student not living with their parents as well as some students without a settled address at all.
That summer session will focus more on enrichment and field trips and district officials said they hope to get about 100 students enrolled.
“The money came along so quickly that we haven’t yet designed exactly what we’re going to be doing,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.
O’Brien said the district will send out notices of the summer session immediately to the parents or guardians of any of the eligible students for either program.
Many national studies suggest that summer programs can yield significant benefits, especially those that focus on reading and math and especially for low-income students.
One two-year study of sixth- and seventh-graders in Atlanta public schools found that summer reading programs significantly narrowed the test score gap between students from low-income homes and others. The academic gains students made over the summer proved directly related to the number of books they read.
Another study by the U.S. Department of Education also found that summer programs can play a key role in helping struggling students keep up. The study of students in Baltimore demonstrated that the test score gap between rich and poor children gets wider as they progress through school. However, summer programs sharply reduced the gap. Researchers speculated that students from higher-income homes continued to read and engage in enrichment activities during the summer, while children from low-income homes often did no academic work over the summer and so spent more time recovering lost ground when school started in the fall.
The researchers concluded that “summer losses in achievement add up year by year and seem to be the major reason why the academic gap between low- and high-income children grows throughout the elementary years.”