CALDWELL — The hallway at Caldwell’s Sacajawea Elementary was bustling on a summer morning with students on the floor racing toy frogs as part of the 2021 Literacy and Math Olympics.
Teacher Ashlie Hallenbeck held up a bag full of plastic toy frogs that the students used to compete in a makeshift pentathlon, including triple jump, long jump, high jump, relay races and making the frogs land on a target. The students had to use math to figure out how their frog was doing in each event.
Hallenbeck’s classroom walls are lined with papers displaying Olympic events and one was covered in nouns, verbs, adverbs and prepositions that would be used during the Olympics.
The program is one of many at Sacajawea, part of the district’s Summer Bridge Program, which are special summer camps that are being held in June in Caldwell’s elementary and secondary schools. Every summer, Caldwell holds summer school at the elementary level for English Language Learners and migrant students with remedial programs at the secondary level.
District Communications Director Allison Westfall said the Summer Bridge Program is being funded with Title I money and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
“This is a ‘Thanks COVID’ kind of thing,” Sacajawea principal Paul Webster said. “It’s a great experiment.”
Since the program is being funded in part by COVID relief money, Webster admitted that there is no guarantee of it returning next summer. Westfall said the cost of the program is roughly $340,000 districtwide.
While Webster called the summer program a “good opportunity to make up gaps in learning,” he said there aren’t any programs at the school that are directly addressing learning loss caused by the pandemic-affected school year.
Webster said he doesn’t know how useful summer school can be when it comes to addressing learning loss from the school year, saying many students use the time to make up credits. Instead, Webster said the elementary school is using the opportunity as enrichment for the students.
Webster said students who live in poverty tend to have a “summer slump” where they will lose some of the knowledge they gained from the previous year. They then have to work harder the next year to make up for that slump. On the other hand, Webster said affluent students don’t experience the summer slump as often, attributing it to kids attending summer camps, having tutoring and going on learning activities like trips to the zoo.
“Those are academic enrichment experiences,” Webster said. “The question is how to create those enrichment experiences for the kids here.”
Sacajawea Elementary has over 98% of students coming from low income families. Webster said having the summer camp is the school’s way of addressing the summer slump and making sure the students are more prepared for the 2021-2022 school year.
On top of the literacy and math Olympics, students could join a STEM class where they were investigators solving a mystery by using science. On Thursday, students were testing different chemical reactions, including mixing baking soda and vinegar.
For the first time in the history of Sacajawea Elementary, there is a cooking class that is being held at the Roberts Recreation Center. In this class, the self-proclaimed Chefs (pronounced with a hard ‘ch’ as it is short for Children Chefs) both learned what quiche and beef stroganoff are before learning how to make them and shared their meal with Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas.
There is also a class learning about water and the ecosystem. On Thursday, the class braved the rain and cooler temperatures at Lake Lowell to find small insects and organisms that they could look at through a microscope when they returned to school.