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For most K-12 students, this summer was spent at the pool, on vacation, playing outside or playing games inside. But for more than 40 4th, 5th and 6th grade Exeter students, their summer fun included some learning, as well.
For the third year, the Teachers in the Parks program played host to students in Exeter’s Community Park – providing some individualized attention from five of the district’s teachers.
“We take the school out of summer school,” said Matthew Hathaway, a fourth grade teacher at Owatin Creek Elementary School. The Teachers in the Parks program was his brainchild. “The concept is actually very simple. We replace the building with a park, the classroom with a blanket, the whole class with a small group, while maintaining Exeter’s high standard of quality instruction.”
The TIPS program ran for six weeks, twice a week for two hours a day, wrapping up for this year on Aug. 9. Three different classes were offered this summer – reading, math and math challenge. Hathaway said during the sessions, the students received specially designed instruction to help them transition to the next grade.
But if you have an image of lectures, textbooks books and composition notebooks in your head – forget it!
“Watching our program, you would see students moving around the park, taking real measurements, measuring real angles, meeting at the blankets, receiving small group instruction, working with partners under a tree or on a bench and learning through play in the open fields,” Hathaway added.
For one activity, the students measured the length of the Titanic (882 feet) across one of the fields in the park, by using non-standard measurement techniques to find the result. The students were up, moving, walking across the field as they worked to solve the problem.
On another day, students in Hathaway’s group made a circle with rope on the ground – using smaller pieces of rope to form angles and diameter. Hathaway had them try to jump 360-derees and walk the circumference of the circle.
“It’s great that they do hands on activities to reinforce the skills they learned in school,” said Junior High School Principal Eric Flamm, who was observing the activities. “Making it come alive makes it fun for the kids.”
Hathaway said after he had been teaching for a couple of years, he noticed that it would take weeks for students to develop “academic momentum” after the summer break.
“I felt like I was spending weeks at the beginning of the year reviewing skills students learned last year. I wanted to develop meaningful summer learning experiences that students would want come to over the summer.”
He said the program actually started with only a few students.
“And we would often walk down to the local community park for activities. At some point over the summer, I realized that holding sessions in the parks was the answer! Many of the students were already there, others could walk, and others could be dropped off,” Hathaway said.
“It’s really fun. I like how the teachers turn leaning into fun,” said Amel Marian, 11.
Her fellow students agreed.
“The teachers make it fun,” said Andrea Keck,” 11.
“It’s fun that we get to learn outside of school,” said Finn Haney, 11.
“Once we had to figure out how fast we ran. He timed us and we had to figure it out. I like the teacher because he’s the best math teacher and adds fun,” added Ella Ehlert, 10.
While the program is fun for the students – Hathaway said he has seen positive results in the students who attend.
“Students in our program leave feeling better prepared for the next grade level. I have had several students in my homeroom class that participated in TIPS and I would often hear comments like, ‘I remember this from the summer’ or ‘Why do I have to do this if I already learned it at TIPS.’”
Another benefit is that in addition to academic skills, the students take back to school with them a few new TIPS friends, a positive relationship with a teacher and a confidence to continue the summer momentum.
The TIPS program is a self-funded program within the district, depending on contributions from the community and individual families for funding.
Hathaway said the program added sponsors this year, which helped to bring down the cost for families, and allowed them to provide grants to families that needed financial help to attend. He added that cost for each child was about $100 this summer, or about $5 per hour of instruction, a number Hathaway is hoping to reduce further.
This year, an extra component was added – Leaders in the Parks. Hathaway said school board members and the district’s administrators were invited to spend some time in the park working with the students and observing their activities.
“Leaders in the Parks is a simple way to show our students that administrators, school board members, and teachers all care tremendously about their education,” he added.