Summertime and the living is easy… until you are abruptly awakened by your child exclaiming that they are ready to go to school. Wait, kids excited to go to school? Wait, kids excited to go to school in the summer? Well, after an unprecedented year with the pandemic, students were craving to get back into the physical classroom; they needed a place to go beyond the screen.

Humans need to belong; furthermore, humans need to progress. Even at a young age, our youth demonstrates this with multiple studies about the mental health toll this has been taking on them in the past year and a half. Fortunately, Payson Unified School District was able to host a solution during this past summer. With the financial assistance of the MHA Foundation, the district could offer in-person summer school for any student that was available to attend. This was different from previous years when summer school was only extended to those recommended due to falling behind academically. Altogether, nearly 300 students belonged to this year’s summer school program, and they most certainly made progress.

Every school in the district was happy to report growth beyond the actual time frame of the program. In only one month, Payson Elementary School averaged nearly double the expected growth per student. During this same period, Rim Country Middle School showed triple, and Julia Randall accomplished quadruple the predicted growth on average. This success was credited to the enthusiasm of students to learn, teachers with smaller class sizes, and the ability to target precisely where the individual students are at with a new to the district program.

Since taking over her current position, the Director of Curriculum, Katrina Sacco, has better unified the district with the educational program called IXL. According to their website, www.ixl.com, it is currently being used by over 12 million students in over 190 countries worldwide. Now, they boast the stat that one in five students within the United States is using IXL. This program provides individual diagnostic data and skill recommendations for each student based upon this information. Linda Gibson, Superintendent of PUSD, raved that this continuity in the district would finally allow parents to be familiar with the same presentation of data year after year. IXL enables everyone involved to understand where the child is and can provide relevant practice that can be accessed anywhere with the internet to further close gaps or push further beyond.

The success didn’t stop with the middle school, though. Our local high schoolers were able to earn 42 total credits this summer. Their program was a blend between online and in-person. The online platform enabled each student to complete as much work as possible and provided the flexibility for students to maintain jobs while completing courses. This ability to earn credits is invaluable for students who struggled with previous classes and did not obtain the appropriate amount to graduate on time.

With the emotional trauma that emerged for our students from isolation and the gaps carved in their learning, MHA Foundation played an integral part in helping fill the hole left in the budget to host such a program. With the drop in enrollment causing the school’s budget to become less than desirable and the district left waiting on federal funding, PUSD would not have been in a position to commit to an additional curriculum such as these summer classes. Fortunately, all parties involved pulled resources together, and our students met those efforts with their enthusiasm to succeed.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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