School Board learns about new and continued summertime programs funded by CARES Act money

PORT ST. LUCIE – St. Lucie County Schools staff unveiled new options for summer school this year during the March 23 School Board meeting that include Adventure Learning Camps for elementary students and onsite orientations for incoming kindergartners.

Chief Academic Officer Helen Wild told Board members that she had already met to brainstorm with the District’s various non-profit agencies that provide educational enrichment programs.

“This summer we’re doing our program in a big way, expanding it and really trying to address the children who may have fallen behind during this COVID-19 time,” she said. “We did reach out to our community partners, specifically the Children’s Services Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs. They were fantastic partners last summer and they continue to be this summer. We’ve been working through this plan with them and will continue to [do so] as we get ready to launch this.”

The Learning Adventure Camps are the newest summer school offering, slated for every traditional elementary and K-8 school campus in St. Lucie County. To comply with CDC social distancing requirements, each camp session will be capped at 12 students with a total of eight camps per school site. There will be three separately themed sessions for the two-week camps, slated to run Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Transportation will be provided for those students residing within the transportation boundaries of their assigned schools.

“They’ll have fun activities around certain types of themes like drama, art and animals, and they will be offered in three, two-week sessions,” Dr. Wild explained. “Students can do a two-week session and then go to other camps that they would normally do if they become available as we progress through COVID, or they could do all three sessions.”

Superintendent E. Wayne Gent emphasized the importance of the new camps to help students who may have lagged behind during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of the COVID slide, our students have suffered as they have across the state,” he said. “So, we want this to look different – we don’t want it to just be academic-based. Each school [is] almost competing with each other on thematic units and themes to get the kids in to have a good time and have fun, as well as to catch them up where they need to be. It’s really a continuation [of learning], but it’ll be a more fun, relaxed atmosphere for the students.”

St. Lucie Schools is continuing its Third-Grade Reading Camp but on an expanded full-day schedule that will last for six weeks. Every elementary and K-8 campus will host its own Reading Camp from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday beginning on June 21. The District is launching a new kindergarten transition camp this year known as Kick Off Kindergarten to help both incoming kindergartners and their parents acclimate to the new environment for the youngest students.

“This will be the week of July 26 through July 29 at all traditional schools, and it will be by invitation to all incoming kindergarten students,” Dr. Wild said. “It will be a one-day orientation where there’ll be a parent segment for the students. They’ll get to see the school [and] get comfortable with it before it’s got the rest of the student body there, meet key members of the faculty and staff and meet teachers.”

Superintendent Gent described Kick-Off Kindergarten as part of an overall district-wide push to educate the community on the importance of early learning despite a still ongoing pandemic.

“We don’t know to what extent kindergarteners didn’t come back this year in St. Lucie County, but we do know as a state and as a country that there was a lot of students missing,” he emphasized. “So, we really want to go out into the community and to the churches and the special events to do a push and not have parents wait until the last moment to register for kindergarten.”

In addition to the aforementioned new programs, St. Lucie Schools will continue its 21st Century Learning Camps for both elementary and middle-school students at specific locations. Funded by the federal 21st Century Learning grant, the camps will be held at Chester A. Moore, Lawnwood, Lakewood Park, Parkway and White City elementary school campuses, as well as Dan McCarthy and Forrest Grove middle schools.

“It’s an after-school program that continues into the summer,” Dr. Wild said. “It’s for project-based learning as well as support in reading and math.”

All middle-school and high-school students will have summer school options on their own assigned campuses, with most courses designed for course or credit recovery. Summer classes will be held Monday through Thursday from June 14 to July 8, and attendance will be capped at 80 students per middle school campus and 120 students per high-school campus.

“This is to prevent retentions and to increase graduation rates, so we are greatly expanding the credit recovery, which normally focuses on eighth grade and 12th grade to include all sixth through 12th graders.” Dr. Wild explained. “So, every school will host their own.”

Incoming ninth-graders can sign up for a high-school transition day taking place July 26 through July 29. Students will learn from various topics and activities during the one-day session, such as how to read class schedules, taking campus tours, participating in team-building activities and learning about graduation requirements and different club activities.

“They will all be invited to attend and be able to see the cafeteria, understand where they will sit for lunch, read their schedule and know what it means,” Dr. Wild explained. “So, all those fears that come with the first day of high school can be alleviated.”

After Dr. Wild completed her presentation, the CEO of the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County, Sean Boyle, told the Board his organization would be expanding from 15 to 25 locations to better collaborate with the District’s educational needs this summer. He also emphasized the need for summertime transportation.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re working together so that the students you’ve identified – if they’re registered in one of our summer camps – we’re going to make sure that those families are well-aware of the resources available,” he said. “Knowing that the summer camps end at 2 o’clock and some parents are still going to be working… we’re having dialogues about ways the transportation could be provided to that location so that families don’t have to worry about picking up their child or having a child unattended at 2 o’clock.”

Superintendent Gent insisted the District would do its part.

“We don’t want to have parents try to do the transportation,” he said. “Working with these partners and other partners out there, we feel confident we have the resources to do that.”

Board Member Jack Kelly then asked the hard question.

“Where’s the money going to come from to pay for it?”

Superintendent Gent then assured him that this year’s summer school and any transportation would be funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“This will come from the CARES Act – from the federal dollars – and the approximate number is $4.8 million,” he said. “There’ll be no impact on our general fund operating budget. and we’ll going to put it to use,”

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