SNOW HILL — After a spike in interest over the last five years, Worcester County schools are only expecting to maintain attendance numbers for summer school this year.
However, the gradual increase in interest could show a positive trend where parents and students are no longer viewing “summer school” as a punishment, but instead as an opportunity, according to Coordinator of Instruction for Summer and Afterschool Academies Tamara Mills.
“I think the mindset has changed,” she said.
While summer academies at area schools are hardly new, Mills explained that continuing efforts by the Board of Education, faculty, parents and students have slowly transformed the programs into something beneficial for everyone involved. Students who are struggling during the year are able to get a leg up on the next year, she said, while those who are already ahead are able to “enrich” their academic experiences.
“We need to be challenging them,” said Mills.
Even new students receive a special benefit from attending a summer academy, according to Mills.
“For students going into a new school, it’s a wonderful introduction to that school,” said Mills.
All students, she added, can cut back on the “summer slide,” the natural deterioration of information from the end of a school year to the beginning of the next, by attending their school’s summer academy.
“It helps them maintain,” she said.
Mills admitted that summer academies haven’t always been so inclusive, but years of fleshing out programs and modernizing what schools offer has helped transition the academies from punishment to reward, she said.
As far as modernization, Mills explained that in recent years a greater emphasis has been placed on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs.
“The biggest thing we do is to continue to integrate STEM,” she said. “We want to continue to integrate technology in general.”
Following those lines, middle schools in Worcester this summer will be focusing on a study of fixed wing flight, with a special emphasis on the engineering and design of those aircraft. At the high school level, academy participants will be building underwater robots with the help of the US Navy SeaPerch program.
Even at the elementary school level, where the program is much more general, students will begin to develop early STEM skills, as well as arts, physical education, and reading.
The evolution of county summer academies couldn’t have been done without the aid of a large amount of government grant funding, according to Mills.
“We’re fortunate to have three grants running right now so most programs are grant funded,” she said.
However, those grants run on a three year rotation, and Mills confirmed that the grant for grades 4-5 and 6-8 are on their last year. Worcester will be re-applying for those same grants and Mills is optimistic about the county’s chances. But if they are not renewed, she said it will be difficult to maintain the same level of excellence at the academies.
In years past, schools had the option of appealing to the County Commission if outside funding fell through. But with the nation suffering through the spasms of a recession, Mills said purse strings are being held much tighter these days.
“In this economic climate you just can’t do it,” she remarked.
According to Mills, her biggest hope for summer academies in Worcester is to keep attracting the same interest they have now while becoming better known in the community.
“I would like to maintain and hope the community sees the value,” she stated.
Summer Academies in Worcester last from June 18-July 13. Teachers begin training in April before they’re able to host a program.