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Summer camp helps students fill learning gaps

Nearly 400 students have participated

The Bell County School System has spent the last year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the offering of a Summer Enrichment Camp to help students fill in some gaps in learning caused by the school scheduling issues created by the pandemic.

“We’re happy to provide these compensatory services for our students that had a shortened year and not many days in their seats,“ said Bell County Schools Superintendent Tom Gambrel. “We also were tickled to be able to offer some fun activities for those kids. It’s been a huge success.”

Instructional Supervisor Jennifer Yankey went over some aspects of the program.

“Basically, we have four sites, we have Bell Central, Frakes School Center, and Yellow Creek School Center, which are our three K – 8 schools that are hosting Summer Enrichment Camp,” Yankey said. “We also have Bell County High School.”

Yankey explained the elementary schools are focusing primarily on reading and math skills to provide for any learning gaps the children may have due to the disruptions in school activities over the last year because of COVID-19.

“Between kids attending virtually at times, in person at times, being put on quarantine, and so many different variables due to COVID, there could be some gaps in learning,” Yankey said. “So, we were wanting to address those as much as possible.”

Instructional supervisor Angela Allen said approximately 400 children took part in the Summer Enrichment Camp.

“We started planning for this back in the spring and started identifying students that had experienced learning loss due to COVID-19, being in and out of school and different things,” Allen said. “Once we had those students identified, we started planning and realized how many sites we would need depending on the number of students that needed to attend.”

Allen pointed out while not all students identified decided to attend, many did.

“We wanted it to be heavily focused on reading and math, because those are gateway skills that they need to be successful,” Allen said.

“They have two periods of reading and two periods of math, and then we have some enrichment activities interwoven throughout the day so they get to do some fun things and want to keep coming back.”

Yankey noted along with the reading and math activities, Summer Enrichment Camp also provided some activities for the entertainment of the participants.

“We’re also providing lots of summer enrichment programs beyond reading and math that are fun activities,” Yankey said. “We’ve offered art enrichment, we have offered dance, fishing, archery, Spanish, and of course STEM activities.”

Yankey pointed out STEM activities involve science, technology, engineering, and math activities.

Allen said it appears the program has been successful.

“Of course, I’ve not seen the data yet,” Allen said. “But, just from the feedback I have received…it’s been very intentional, intense and I do think that it will help with learning loss and addressing those gaps. I definitely think the enrichment part where we wanted them to have some fun has worked as well.”

Students in Bell County School District’s Summer Enrichment Camp not only caught up on their academic studies, but they also enjoyed some other activities, including archery. – Photo courtesy of Bell County School District

One of the most popular of the offerings has been archery classes taught by Bell County High School R.O.T.C. instructor James Browning.

“I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback,” Allen said of the archery activities. “He (Browning) is starting an archery team at the high school, so with our middle school students, he has gone around to each location…I have heard that has encouraged a lot of kids and they want to join the archery team now when they reach high school. It’s been very popular.”

Allen said the children have also enjoyed many of the STEM activities.

“The middle school students got to dissect frogs, they don’t typically do that at that level,” Allen said. “They’re having fun and learning at the same time.”

While the program was designed to help students catch up on things following COVID-19, it may continue in the future.

“We will definitely look and see whether it will be feasible to continue doing this in the future,” Allen said.

Allen noted the children who attended the camp seemed happy to be back in the classroom.

“Our kids that have attended this summer enrichment camp have just been excited to be back in school full time,” Allen said. “Even though it’s summer, it has still seemed like a return to some type of normalcy for them.”