Summer program grows


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Laughter and happy faces might not be the first things you expect when you visit a school in the summertime.

“We don’t want to sentence kids to summer school, we want it to be fun,” said Joan VandenBerg, the Iowa City School District’s youth and family-development coordinator.

The Complementary Learning Program began in 2010 with 120 children from kindergarten to fourth grade at three different sites. This year, it has 285 kids at six different sites.

Wood and Twain Elementary Schools began programming on June 11. The school started on June 16 for Weber and Lemme. Mann and Kirkwood started on July 9.

All of the sites will end their programs on Aug. 8.

Running a program of this magnitude isn’t cheap.

VandenBerg estimates that the childcare cost is $1,000 per child. The program wouldn’t be possible without its many partners, she said.

The majority of funding comes from a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which is only guaranteed for three years.

Additional funding is received from School District SAVE funds, the state of Iowa Early Literacy Funds, the city of Coralville, Johnson County Decategorization Funds, Neighborhood Centers for Johnson County, Pearson, and private donations.

Children are selected based on recommendations from their teachers during the regular school year, as well as financial need. Selection is generally on an academic basis, but a summer camp also exists for students who need a place to be during the day.

According to the School District, 90 percent of students who participate live in poverty.

VandenBerg said the program runs from 8.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. because kids in need can’t always have their parents come pick them up halfway through the day.

Students attending the summer-school portion have plans designed to meet their individual needs.
They are four rooms with teachers and tutors in which students improve their reading and math skills by doing group presentations on books such as Ninja Pigs, based on the “Three Little Pigs.”

“It’s great for kids that need the extra support,” program director Jarrod DeRooi said.

All faculty members are licensed district teachers and veterans of the program, said Wood Elementary Principal Joelle McConnaha.

“We just have a phenomenal staff,” she said.

Hands-on activities play a role in both the summer school and summer camp.

The programs offer regular Friday field trips to such places as the Children’s Museum and the Niabi Zoo help to keep students engaged in their learning.

Summer-camp students at Wood are in the midst of planting their own “carnivorous” garden behind the school.

The children were tired of the gnats and came up with their own solution to the problem, DeRooi said.

Students are involved in every aspect of the gardens maintenance from daily weeding to selecting such plants as the Venus flytrap for their plot. They even helped to construct the shed and fence enclosing the plot using simple applied mathematics, he said.

Students also cultivate a number of other plants such as parsley, radishes, and chives. All fruit and vegetable waste, and some recycling, that the program generates is composted in the garden until it can be used as fertilizer.

All of the students can access the Bookmobile, a library on wheels that visits several locations throughout the district. Students are free to borrow books without the hassle of having to make their own way to the library.

This is particularly important for Wood because its library is being renovated.

“One of the barriers to summer programming is all the renovation that takes place,” VandenBerg said.

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