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‘Summer Soar’: School leaders call Dawson County summer school a huge success
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Dawson County students learn in the classroom during the “Summer Soar” summer school program in June 2021. - photo by Ben Hendren

This June, the Dawson County School System held a three-week summer school, “Summer Soar” for over 150 local elementary school students, modeled after summer camp with activities and themes to make learning fun while filling student learning gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The summer program took place at Riverview Elementary School and included students and teachers from all four of the county’s elementary schools. According to Summer Soar Coordinator Tasha Hamil, this is the first year that all the county’s elementary schools have come together for one summer program. 

“This is the first time that we’ve ever done anything like this altogether; the schools traditionally have something for their kids over the summer but not like this so it’s been a big learning curve, but at the same time it’s been very successful,” Hamil said. “All the teachers and all the students coming together has been most beneficial for us.”

Fourth-grade teacher Beth Peck said that having students and teachers from all the schools working toward a common goal created a spirit of unity and camaraderie between the separate schools.

“It’s given us an opportunity for all of the elementary schools to come together and form relationships with the other teachers as well as the kids from all the schools too,” Peck said. 

According to Peck, each day of the program was built to mirror a regular school day, just on a more condensed scale. Students were divided up by grade level to learn math, reading and writing skills, as well as take part in fun enrichment activities like basketball, treasure hunts and obstacle courses. 

Mykiya Watson, who participated in Summer Soar as part of the first-grade group, said that these enrichment activities and time spent playing in the gym made the summer school program fun for her and her classmates.

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Dawson County teachers direct students into Riverview Elementary School during the school system’s “Summer Soar” summer learning program in June 2021. - photo by Ben Hendren

“It is fun, we do a lot of exciting things,” Watson said. “I love gym, they give us a lot of activities and my favorite part about it is P.E. cause we get to play sharks and minnows.” 

In addition to having fun at Summer Soar, Watson advanced an entire level in reading during her time in the program: an accomplishment that she’s very proud of and will help her in her move up into the next grade when school starts back. 

Watson’s first grade Summer Soar classmate, Sophia Scott, said that she also learned a lot during the program and that the enrichment activities have made it fun to learn. 

“I like being here because it’s fun and we get to play outside,” Scott said. “And I learned a lot of summer reading and writing, and I like that.” 

Students in Summer Soar also took part in special activities throughout the three-week period, like tie-dying their own shirts and learning about the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office K9 and Drone units. Each day of the program had a special theme, from wild hair day and hat day to “dress like a pirate” day, which school leaders said kept students coming back.

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A Dawson County student plays basketball with a school resource officer at Riverview Elementary School during the “Summer Soar” summer school program in June 2021. - photo by Ben Hendren

Christy Millholland, kindergarten teacher for Summer Soar, said that the participation from school system personnel, community members and groups like the DCSO has been a great example of what can be accomplished when a community pulls together for one cause. 

“It’s just been such an operation to really support the kids who just needed a little bit of extra, whether it be because of the gap that was created when we missed last spring or if they were quarantined,” Millholland said. “All of the schools have so pulled together and worked well together just to really help our boys and girls be as successful as they can be, and I’m just so thankful to be a part of it.” 

Millholland said that for the kindergarteners in the summer program, the extra help has been especially important in getting them into a routine for when they attend first grade this fall.

“That’s a big part of going into first grade: independence and being responsible for your own learning,” she said. “We’ve been doing a lot of letter sounds, beginning sounds, and those are some of the areas that they need to work on to be successful in first grade with their reading.” 

The goal for all grade levels in the program was to prepare the students for the next grade, something which fifth-grader Madeline Martinez said has been extremely helpful for her as she transitions into middle school. 

“My favorite part is math cause we have a really good math teacher, Ms. Martin,” Martinez said. “We were learning and preparing for sixth grade, to get ready for it and prepare for everything, and she made it real easy.” 

According to Hamil, the students in Summer Soar showed vast improvements across the board. 

“Our data is coming in and the students are all doing well. They’re all growing and they’re happy,” Hamil said. “And the parents are happy too because they can tell that their students have gained in their academic achievements, so it’s been great.” 

Hamil said that the goals they set at the beginning of the Summer Soar program were definitely accomplished and the summer school program was a total success. 

“We’ve seen a lot of our students rise as leaders here,” Hamil said. “We try to address their social, emotional and educational wellbeing, so it’s been great to accomplish all of that in just 11 days.”