Kids and mom building sand castle on the beach
Outside the Classroom

Summer School: Time for Playing in the Sand(box)

As the winter months drag on toward spring, you may already be daydreaming of sand in the summer. But instead of fantasizing about sand on a tropical beach, imagine a sandbox; that is, how your summer school program can serve as a testing ground for new ideas and programs.

Now is the perfect time to start the initial stages of planning summer school, and this year you can maximize the potential of this time by collecting data and feedback on the great new tools, curriculum, programs, and other solutions you’ve been dying to try out but haven’t had time or resources to implement during the school year. Here are some important ideas to keep in mind as you begin planning your summer school sandbox programming:

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1) Identify challenges

Every school faces challenges, including major questions that are difficult to answer: What will boost student achievement? Why aren’t students engaged? How can we encourage progress? Summer school can be a testing ground for new solutions that can help address these challenges. Those creative, out-of-the-box ideas that your teachers and staff have might seem daunting to implement during the school year, but the summer months can provide a space to try something on a smaller scale. You’ll have the opportunity to see initial effects and give the strongest solutions momentum to take hold during the school year. Take time now to identify the challenges you’d like to tackle and determine how you can explore solutions during summer school.

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2) Engage all learners

Summer school students come with a variety of experiences and needs. Analyze the body of students that will already be a part of a summer program to determine if a small group might be ideal for testing a new idea. You don’t need to completely redesign your programming; focus on a subset of students or a more targeted span of time. In addition, don’t discount students who aren’t on the summer school list. You likely have highly-motivated students who would be excited to take part in testing out a new solution for a part of their summer or who would like to participate in designing the program itself. If you are planning to test out a digital solution, these students could even participate from home!

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3) Elicit comprehensive feedback

When piloting any new initiative, it’s expected that data collection will take place to validate effectiveness. Be sure to set up straightforward methods to collect this data. In addition, incorporate opportunities to elicit feedback from all affected parties, including students, families, teachers, and staff. Include narratives from these groups about their experiences, and ask for suggestions or critiques. You may be surprised by what’s revealed when including the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders.

You can maximize the impact of the summer months by taking advantage of summer school as an opportunity to pilot new initiatives. Be creative, be open to new ideas, and be ready to play in the sandbox!

About the Author

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Aaron Griffith-VanderYacht

A native of Bellingham, Washington, Aaron Griffith-VanderYacht began his career as a special education teacher in St. Louis, Missouri, and Brooklyn, New York, and is a Teach For America alumnus. Always seeking to integrate technology into the classroom, it was a natural progression to move into the world of e-learning where he has gained experience as an instructional designer, professional development consultant, and product specialist. He believes that online and blended learning can be key tools in providing an excellent education for all students.