Grade 7 student Savannah Martin is enjoying the new summer school format at Vedder Middle. 'I know that it's going to help me

Chilliwack district transforms summer school

The Chilliwack school district is trying a bold new approach to summer school with its "summit course" program.

For middle school students who failed a subject during the year, the days of simply redoing the class during summer are over in Chilliwack. This year, the Chilliwack school district is trying something new with its summer learning programming.

Instead of taking a specific summer school course, such as Grade 7 math or English, students enrolled in summer learning take a ‘summit course,’ in which they spend the morning for four weeks in July to cover math, English, social studies, science, and a daily physical activity (DPA) such as soccer or yoga.

“It’s a new wave of thinking we’ve incorporated into summer learning. Our belief is that if students are struggling in one academic area, most likely they are struggling in others,” said Paul Allanson, summer learning acting vice-principal.

Students who fail a class are likely disconnected from school and struggling in other subjects, the theory goes, and a rounded-out supplemental program would serve them better. The change in format comes after several years of study, including watching how well a similar program in Maple Ridge has done.

The provincially funded summit course is available to students coming out of Grade 7, 8, and 9, as well as Grade 6 students who want to preview the upcoming grade’s offerings.

While English and math are taught in dedicated blocks of time, students spend 1.5 hours a day on a project of their choosing, which counts for their social studies and science learning. The project could be anything from researching black bears to compiling a list of recreation options in the Fraser Valley.

“We’ve come up with a theme for them. They design the question, they design the research project around that question. That takes in a lot of the English, math, and the science and social studies aspects, and it really makes it personalized learning for themselves,” said Allanson.

This month’s summit course includes fully-funded field trips to a rock climbing gym in Abbotsford, a hike on Teapot Hill at Cultus Lake, and a walk to the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve.

Students pass or fail the program as a whole, so someone who struggles in math must only succeed in the other subjects in order to complete the summit course.

The course throws together students coming to summer school for a variety of reasons. Some enroll because they failed a class during the year, and must pass summit in order to continue in their grade. Others failed a course, but would graduate to the next year regardless of their summer performance.

Others still are enrolled as a preview to the next year, often because their parents want their child to be extra prepared.

Half-way through the inaugural Grade 7 summit course at Vedder Middle school, most students in Alicia Wernicke’s class seem to like the new format. This was especially true for the approximately 40 per cent of students that are in the summer program as a preview.

As mom Amanda Goudreault said, “It’s great they’re getting a bit of everything.” Goudreault enrolled her son, a Grade 6 graduate, into the Grade 7 summit course as a preview to the upcoming year in order to help him transition from elementary to middle school.

However, there was one common complaint among students sent to summer school to repeat a class.

“I don’t really like how they changed it. I passed math, but failed humanities. Why do I have to take this?” said Sarah Gordon.

Because of the variety of daily activities, Wernicke is seeing her students enjoying summer school more than before. Students are also well motivated to complete their self-directed projects.

Elementary students, meanwhile, still have specialized summer classes on math and reading, but getting into them may be tough. As summer enrollment for the youngest learners has skyrocketed in the last few years, classes fill up within two weeks of registration. Over half of the currently enrolled summer learning students are in elementary.

Parents and school staff denied that the increase in elementary enrollment may be due to parents looking at the program as a short-term day care. Instead, the focus is on giving young students a leg up in their early academic years.

A total of 716 students, Grades 1 to 9, have signed up for summer learning this year. That’s a 20 per cent increase since last year, and more than three times the number of summer students in 2006.

The Ministry of Education is spending a projected $116,000 in 2013 on summer learning in Chilliwack, up from $114,000 in 2012.

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