BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
GLEASON (June 23) – The first day’s balloon release suggested Gleason’s Summer Scholars Program was going to be far more than “summer school.” As the four weeks of six hours of daily reading, math, RTI² services, and physical activity came to a close, students who are about to enter first through seventh grades had experienced hands-on introductions to where food comes from, how money is made and saved, and career options.
When the additional academic work was mandated by the legislature to address potential learning loss due to the pandemic, Weakley County educators agreed that a camp-like experience would be the best approach to ensure that students who had a choice to attend would choose to come back daily for the fun and leave with learning.
“We gathered a group of teachers and administrators to discuss how to infuse the days with opportunities for success,” said Terri Stephenson, Supervisor of Elementary Instruction. “Our new English Language Arts curriculum proved to be the perfect tool as each grade focuses on similar subject matter and the methodology for working with the foundational skills is scaffolded for the grade level,” she added.
The group chose a later unit on economics. Immediately upon receiving the topic, teachers began to brainstorm on how to pull learning from texts into a camp-like setting. June being Dairy Month was a plus and Weakley County’s community support of schools were also big contributors to the creative activities each school chose to include, Stephenson explained.
At Gleason School, attendance remained steady with an average of 42. A staff of 11 teachers and educational assistants, one director, the nurse, School Resource Officer, and cafeteria staff provided the components to take young minds on weekly explorations well beyond the pages of the chosen reading and writing curriculum.
At times, that looked like a tour of a Prairie Farms milk truck or hearing about saving money after a quick walk to the Bank of Gleason. Representatives from E.W. James brought in an array of produce for students to examine closely. A Touch-A-Truck experience – made possible thanks to Carroll County Electric, Weakley County Ambulance Service, Gleason Fire, Gleason Police, City of Gleason, West Tennessee Public Utilities, KR Tucking, Doyle Sims Trucking, and Weakley County Schools Transportation – brought big smiles to sweaty faces on a particularly hot day. Smiles grew to expressions of awe as the Martin Air Evac helicopter landed in Snider Park. Along with the chance to see the large modes of transportation, the students interacted with the drivers, received overviews of the career choices, and took home gifts from hard hats to sunglasses.
As each of these unique experiences built students background knowledge, teachers and educational assistants then drew on that as they helped students understand sounds relationship to letters, letters to words, and words to reading and writing. Comparing and contrasting as well as sequencing were made easier as students took steps to make jam, butter, and ice cream. And, of course, math skills were applied to every recipe followed.
First and second graders, led by Kara Atkins, Sherri Brawner, Holly Harris, Paige Vaughn, and Whitney Wilson, added to in-class reading with students conducting surveys on favorite milk flavors, writing informational sentences, talking about veterinarians, and examining animal X-rays. Math came to life as they used beads to create two-digit numbers and talk about greater than and less than. Science was touched upon with experiments such as adding food coloring and liquid soap to milk and created artistic designs.
Sherri Brawner is approaching her 28th year of teaching. One might suspect after a year of trying to help pre-kindergarten students learn in the midst of a pandemic that a summer off would be a top priority. Instead, she leapt at the chance to teach for three of the weeks with Paige Vaughn filling in the fourth. After organizing the Touch-A-Truck day, Brawner praised the support she received.
“Today’s event was definitely a way to bring careers into real life perspective into the lives of young elementary students. Our community has always been supportive and always willing to help,” she said and added, “I love my job! It is the best job in the world to see the smiles on the faces of the sweet kiddos.”
That enthusiasm is noted by the students.
“I have loved spending time with all my wonderful teachers,” said second-grader Neely Morton. “I loved painting our shape picture, making ice cream, and reading books!”
Leading learning for grades three and four were April Corbin, Melissa Lawrence, Brittany Morton, and Jennifer Roney. Among their students’ major accomplishments were becoming (theoretical) entrepreneurs. They partnered to select a type of business and determine products to sell and then created presentations on their laptops that provided an overview. Later the class worked together to create a pizza restaurant’s name, logo, menu, and clipart. After reading how cardboard becomes a pizza box, they then filled it with their own pizzas.
Melissa Lawrence and other teachers helped families understand the lessons being learned each day as they posted photos and recaps to a special Facebook page. She was particularly excited to provide a peek into a day focused on dairy.
“Today was a busy day in the 3rd– and 4th-grade class,” she wrote. “We started our morning with a story about a milkmaid. Mrs. April Corbin shared some information with us about churning butter. She even brought a real butter churn for us to see. Students made real butter today by shaking heavy cream. We shook and shook and shook and shook! We were able to see the heavy cream separate and eventually make butter!”
She noted that the day was especially memorable as Prairie Farms allowed students to tour their “milk truck.” The day ended with a Milkmaid Relay with everyone carrying a “milk pail” on his/her head and then running toward the goal.
Reading about seeds producing fruits and vegetables became an opportunity to plant their own seeds. Talking about produce became opportunities to measure and mix for healthy snacks and smoothies.
When students learned about how paper is recycled to make new paper, they then made the trek to Gleason Memorial Library and Librarian Anna Eaton helped add to the numerous art experiences the students had already enjoyed by modeling how to make origami bookmarks. The library also planned a reading challenge for the students to complete by the end of Summer Scholars with prizes for their efforts.
Upcoming third grader Ella Roney said she has enjoyed the math lessons – the games and working with hands-on math manipulatives. She said it has helped her get ready for third grade.
Soon-to-be fifth, sixth and seventh graders leaned into math and science as they competed in skills activities based on fractions, multiplication and division and made sound wave models. The novel “Number the Stars” helped develop context clues, creative writing, and comprehension. Arts exploration came in the form of the culinary arts as students made butter and ice cream and visual arts as they painted, pieced together mosaics and bumped up their science experiments with colorful volcanoes and lava lamps.
Amy McKenzie and Julie Shankle taught the older group. From fifth-grader Natalie Tidwell’s perspective their efforts were productive. “I have been having a lot of fun doing different projects and seeing my teachers and can’t wait for school to start back,” she said.
Summer Scholars Director Monica Rollins expressed gratitude for the support on site of School Resource Officer Jonathan McDowell, nurses Beth Collins and Jeanette Grissom and the cafeteria workers who made and delivered the daily breakfasts and hot lunches. She also thanked Central Office staff including Stephenson, Donald Ray High, Debbie Robbins, Jessica Glasgow, Megan Moore and Betsi Foster for their contributions in making the week a success.
“Excitement for the program could be heard amongst the chatter during lunch as students shared with one another things such as, ‘I just LOVE Summer Scholars’ and ‘I like Summer Scholars, and I hope we can do it again next year,’” she reported. “Test scores are important, but seeing children excited, engaged, and taking ownership for their learning is truly a rewarding thing to witness as it opens doors and opportunities for them to feel and be successful. This educational program has been a breath of fresh air, and we are looking forward to that energy and enthusiasm carrying over into our 2021-2022 school year. … as it’s going to be a GREAT year!”