MANKATO — One of the ideas behind St. Clair’s new Target Services summer program is to engage kids through fun activities, which tends to overshadow the fact they’re learning new words and math concepts.
Teacher Emily Bisel just may have found the most creative way to embrace that philosophy. She had a group of second-graders gathered around a game of Jenga, and each Jenga piece had a vocabulary word on it. Whenever a student successfully pulled out a Jenga piece without knocking down the structure, they read the word aloud and used it in a sentence.
Brooke pulled out the word “even,” which she read just fine. But she got a little stuck on how to use it in a sentence. Luckily, with so many other kids around, she had help. Wyatt stepped up.
“Here, I’ll help you. ‘We are even because we both made two mistakes already,’” he said, which elicited a few giggles from the group.
“We’re really trying to make it fun for them but still worthwhile,” Bisel said of the program.
Targeted Services, which began July 30 and wraps up today, is the first summer school program in St. Clair for four years. Budget cuts have prevented the district from holding its traditional Title I summer school program.
Instead, St. Clair partnered with the St. Peter school district to participate in this alternative-learning program, which is funded through the state.
Program coordinator Nadine Holland went to St. Peter to learn the “nuts and bolts” before the program kicked off this summer in St. Clair.
About 30 students are participating this year in grades 1-6, having been referred by their classroom teachers and signed up by their parents. For three hours each morning, the kids work on social skills and reading and math skills.
“It’s been a big hit with parents and kids,” Holland said.
In Casey Stanek’s room during a session this week, kids read three separate stories and had to identify concepts, such as setting, main characters, problems and resolutions. Stanek also introduced an innovative way for the kids to learn decimals and multiplication of decimals.
She gave students fake checkbooks and had them keep track of their ledgers. She also said she would pay them $3.52 per hour and had them figure out a day’s pay for being in the classroom three hours, Holland said.
“One of them said, ‘My mom even let me fill out her checkbook today because she knows we’ve been working on it,’” Holland said. “We try really hard to present skills differently than the way they see them in school.”
Even though this year’s program is just over two weeks, teachers still will do assessments this week to see progress that has been made. Holland said a program like this helps to curb summer slide, where students tend to forget skills they’ve learned during the school year over summer break.
The program also does wonders for self-esteem, Holland said. Sixth-graders were paired with younger students, and many times, those older students have never been in a position where they are the ones helping another student, Holland said.
“For them to be the person to help someone else out, it gives them a lot of pride that they may not have experienced before,” she said.