Getting a classroom full of kids to concentrate on schoolwork during the school year is challenging enough, but during summer? Talk about mission impossible, right?
Somehow, Gloucester Township School District faculty made it work, bringing in more than 200 students from kindergarten to eighth grade for the district’s first-ever summer camp. Director of Instruction Joanne Acerba said the program—funded by federal grant dollars—was aimed at helping struggling students, providing instruction in literacy and math, as well as social skills.
The 216 students in the program were signed up by their parents, so understandably some were a little hesitant the first day, Acerba said. “The kids walked in and they weren’t sure what they got themselves into. At the end of the first day, I asked the kids, ‘What’d you think?’ They were like, ‘Oh my God, that was great!’ They loved it. They were there every day.”
By creating a slightly more fun, active and engaging learning environment—one that involved the use of iPads, which were among the most popular features of the program if student feedback is to be believed—the staff were able to motivate the students.
Acerba said the benefits of the program were very tangible.
“We literally had kids who didn’t know their alphabet who learned the alphabet,” she explained. “We wanted a group learning experience, something fun so their last memory (of the school year) was not struggling, but their last memory was of success.”
The students graduated from the six-week program at the end of July, and the district held a picnic celebration in Veterans Park to mark the occasion on July 31, featuring guest speaker Salome Thomas-EL, an award-winning teacher and principal from Philadelphia and nationally recognized education expert.
Acerba said approximately 150 families attended the picnic. Items including bikes, scooters, Kindles and iPods were raffled off, and every student left with a backpack full of school supplies.
The program was such a success that Acerba said she is already building it into her budget for next year, and is also looking into the possibility of holding a similar program that would be open to the rest of the student body.
“This is really putting us in the right direction,” she said.