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‘E’ is for enrichment

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Oliviana Brouwer, 7, of Central Point, makes a flashlight Monday at CraterWorks in Central Point.
Central Point’s Summer Connect designed to help students recover lost connections, credits

CENTRAL POINT — The laser printer came all the way up to their shoulders, so the six girls and one boy had to crowd in close to watch through a protective glass window Monday as a 60-watt beam seared their patterns of rainbows and stars into the circular and square wood that would later snap perfectly onto their flashlights and nightlights.

Not bad for a morning’s worth of work at CraterWorks MakerSpace, where Central Point School District students used their hands for something other than pointing and clicking during the district’s D6 Summer Connect program, which is providing enrichment activities for kindergarten through eighth-graders and academic support for high-schoolers.

Summer Connect represents the district’s effort to pour into students who have experienced what the Oregon Department of Education, in a program summary released in April, described as “unfinished learning and inconsistent connections with their peers.”

Through House Bill 5042A, ODE was authorized to distribute $195.6 million from the state’s general fund and another $10 million in federal funds through grants to participating school districts. The resulting summer school programs — every local school district has one — aren’t expected to tackle every problem addressed in that summary, but they are expected to help students recover some of what they had lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christine Beck, the district’s director of education and Summer Connect coordinator, said District 6 applied for the grants in April, which is about when the planning for the program began. It was awarded grants for K-8 enrichment, credit completion and retrieval for high-schoolers, special education and child care. In total, she said, the district received about $2.2 million for its various summer offerings.

Beck and her staff decided to divide the district’s summer school program into five sections, four of which run eight days (two Monday-through-Thursday weeks): a pre-session for high-school seniors only, exclusively for credit retrieval/completion; Session 1 (June 21-July 1), to provide academic support for incoming ninth- through 12th-graders; Session 2 (July 12-22), which provides enrichment activities for K-8 and academic support for 9-12; Session 3 (July 26-Aug. 5), promising more enrichment for K-8; and a Session 4 “bridge week” (Aug. 9-12), when incoming kindergartners, sixth- and ninth-graders will be invited to check out their new school and learn the ropes.

When the call went out for Summer Connect signups, Beck said, she had no idea what to expect.

“It was unknown,” she said. “We had never offered something like this before. It’s been pretty overwhelming — the parent support and community support. And once the word got out of what we were able to accomplish, it has been just daily contact of ‘how do I get my kid in, how can I get them in?’” (The answer to that question is to go to the district’s website, www.district6.org, and click on the appropriate link).

About 300 high-schoolers signed up for Session 1, and roughly 200 for Session 2. In total, she said, 911 students enrolled for Session 2, representing about 18% of the District 6 student body. It’s easy to see why. The entire program is as streamlined for parents as regular school, including busing to and from each of the four schools being used, breakfast and lunch and, for K-8 students, child care provided until 6 p.m. by the YMCA. School days begin at 8 a.m. and wrap up at noon.

The district expected a cap on the number of students it could accept for Summer Connect would be tied to staffing. So far, that hasn’t been a problem.

“We’ve had teachers really step up to the plate here,” Central Point Superintendent Walt Davenport said. “It is really impressive to see that many teachers after that type of year come in and do a program like this. Now I think some of that is because the enrichment piece really capitalizes on a teacher’s interest. We have teachers interested in archery so they’re doing an archery class. … I think that really reenergizes those teachers and lets them pass on some passion work.”

Beck said teachers have answered the call, and not figuratively.

“Every time I’ve sent an email out saying, ‘Hey, we’re short a little bit in K-1, we’ve got a lot of kids on the wait list,’ somebody has said, ‘sure, I’ll do a K-1 session.’”

According to Beck, anywhere from 60 to 65 teachers are working each session, and each of them has at least one support staffer. Some of that support is coming from high school students – 20 to 25 of them, Beck said, are getting work-study credit and a small paycheck (Gibson Hull, 14, an incoming high school freshman, was assisting Monday at CraterWorks).

Ryan Munn, the district’s director of student services, said the student aides are making important contributions.

“I’ve watched them working with kids at the elementary school, and maybe some days rather than walking in a single-file line they might be rolling down the hallway, but it’s summer,” Munn said. “They’re having a good time, and so I’ve heard some pretty good feedback about what it’s been like. It’s been just a little more relaxed in the summer, allowing students to kind of rebuild those friendships. I think Christine had a kid run up to her last week and say, ‘I made a new best friend and I know what they look like.’”

Summer Connect classes are meeting at Central Point Elementary, Hanby Middle School, Scenic Middle School and Crater High School, but field trips like the one Monday that brought elementary students to CraterWorks are a big part of the district’s summer school program. Beck said the district has booked six to nine field trips per day for classes such as archery, golf (Stoneridge Golf Club), geology, wilderness survival, coding, sports and cooking.

Yaneli Ochoa, a 7-year-old, leaned against a table as she snapped her flashlight together Monday at CraterWorks. She said her favorite thing about Summer Connect is that she gets to work on her own projects.

“I made a flashlight,” she said, holding up the device which was still a work in progress. “We’re going to take it home. Before I did summer school, mostly the things I did were projects at my house, kind of like that but with different materials, like paper and plastic.”

“I like it, it’s very fun,” said another 7-year-old, Jace Scallon. “I like to learn. I’ve been learning new words in Spanish. Very fun. And I get to meet new friends. I made rainbows, colored things and when I came here I made the laser-cut stuff.”

Scallon’s next class was STEM wilderness survival, in which the students apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts in the natural world. Last week, students in that class made structures out of twigs and leaves and other items collected on a hike and tested the strength of each creation against a blow dryer.

In the Fab Lab room, adjacent to where Ochoa and Scallon toiled away, teacher Nathan Smith spent Monday morning showing students how the laser printer turned their designs, drawn with the help of Adobe Illustrator, into functional flashlight and nightlight parts.

“I’m just organizing them onto sheets that will fit on the wood that I have, and the laser cutter’s etching it out,” Smith said.

The kids crowded around the laser printer as it etched away.

Beck said Central Point School District worked hard to make sure Summer Connect stayed true to the purpose of the grants.

“The state has said it’s enrichment, it’s for social-emotional connections, it’s for peer-to-peer relationships — go,” she said. “So we met several times with teachers and just shared, really, what are your thoughts, what are you passionate about? So they have been really incredible with the classes they’ve come up with.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.