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Too cool to be school

Summer school. It’s school held after the regular school year ends. Most school districts in the Parkland have it. But some districts plan special summer school classes to attract students to classes which stretch far beyond remedial classes.

West County created special specific enrichment classes this year to entice students from kindergarten through high school. This accelerated learning helped students gain important skills while having fun during the condensed period of summer school.

At West County Elementary, fifth-grade teacher Joyce Choate led her group of eager students in hands-on STEAM projects. One project consisted of students making paper roller coasters and then tested them with marbles. Students also logged computer time by learning how to code.

“I really enjoy getting to know my new fifth graders,” said Choate, “so I know some of them before the new school year begins.”

Choate has worked in the district for 23 years. She has taught summer school for all of those years except two.

“The kids are definitely having lots of fun,” said Todd Watson, who worked his 22nd and last summer school as elementary principal. He worked a total of about 20 summer school sessions during his tenure in the district.

Watson’s wife, Julie, is also a teacher in the district. She recently completed her 31st year of teaching and has done summer school for about a decade.

This year, Julie worked with second graders on reading and also a few high-interest themes like Titanic, meteorology and Spy Camp where students became FBI agents to solve mysteries. They concluded their summer school time with studying real-life honey bees when her husband (and principal) — and beekeeper — brought in his observation container of the actual insects.

“We incorporate reading and writing and math as much as possible,” said Julie. “I love working with the kids during summer school. I have the best job.”

Julie said the end of this summer school was tough because she and her husband had worked together for 30 years.

“It’s going to be very hard not to be together every day at school,” she said. “I’m really going to miss our time together.”

Just down the hallway, Tracy Newman was reading the book “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” with third-grade girls while classmate Nico Cavelli worked with the boys on a book about Judy’s brother Stink.

“I helped the students read and helped them with hard words,” said Cavelli.

Blane Lashley said he enjoyed reading about the main character’s webbed feet.

“I can’t believe he [the main character] couldn’t touch his nose with his tongue and then he could later.”

He said summer school is “really fun, more than regular school. You have fun all day and get popsicles at last recess.”

Khloe Barnett said reading is her favorite part of summer school. “We get to read and learn and kids get the opportunity to come to summer school to have fun.”

She also liked the games they played, sharing with other students, and computer time and recess.

Milly Ketcherside said she really enjoyed reading and recess. “I like having fun with my teacher and friends.”

Jemma Camden said she liked lunch at summer school, especially the mashed potatoes.

During one class, Newman’s students had to break out of an escape room in the library called the Wolf’s Den. The boys and girls were split into separate groups and had to work to uncover clues, read invisible ink, use math manipulatives and locate the missing key (from Principal Watson).

Student Rylee Ross found the clue in the books to help solve the mystery.

Newman has worked the last 10 years of summer school and recently completed her 32nd year of teaching.

Jill Simily has taught kindergarten for 20 years at West County and has been a summer school teacher every year except two. She and teacher Amy Heberlie taught students for two weeks and then rotated.

Their themes included “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give…” book series where they introduced young students to a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables by cooking in the afternoons and creating hands-on learning centers.

“Summer school is great because we get a chance to meet our new kindergarteners before the new school year starts,” said Simily. “It’s also great because I get to wear more relaxed, comfy clothes while I teach and have fun.”

Fun Fridays were a big hit with the kids when they used shaving cream on the desks to practice making shapes and letters.

Counselor Becky Yount, who has worked the past 18 years of summer school, helped plan incentive trips for the young students to a variety of places such as the movies, YMCA and outdoor activities. Teacher Lisa Puller even made a “car wash” for students.

Enrollment at the elementary included as many as 170 students a day.

At West County High School, about 75 students attended different classes including personal finance, physical education and credit recovery. Students also went to the pool weekly and visited Bonne Terre Family Fun Center and Grant’s Farm in St. Louis.

At West County Middle School, the average student attendance was nearly 60 students per day.

Teacher Sandra Coffman, who completed her 21st year of teaching, has been in charge of summer school’s sixth-grade transition program for 18 years. She works with Tiffany Bungenstock and John Barnett to help new sixth graders become acclimated with the middle school.

Students participated in many fun projects including Cupcake Wars, escape rooms, crafts, cooking, and plenty of trips to the local pool, movie theater, Grant’s Farm and The Space Museum in Bonne Terre.

Those students who attended 15 out of 18 total summer school days then received their schedules, lockers and school supplies for the upcoming year.

“The funnest thing so far has been Cupcake Wars and also watching the students do a live Quizlet where they had to work together in groups to learn about antibullying,” said Bungenstock.

Coffman said she enjoyed helping students make the cupcakes with homemade batter and seeing the kids use their $10 budget to shop online to plan for their projects. They had to create themes for their cupcakes and buy items to decorate them with things like cookies and candies. Winning Cupcake War themes included Fortnite for most creative, Disney for best display and best taste went to the West County-themed cupcakes.

Transition students helped with cleanup after breakfast and lunch. Groups of four to five students rotated to be the weekly helpers where they took out trash, wiped tables and completed any other necessary tasks.

“The kids like being hands-on helpers,” said Coffman. “They really step up and help out. They take pride in their work.”

John Barnett has worked the last eight years of summer school and assists with the transition program. He was most proud of the fact he had learned all the students’ names within the first two days of summer school. He planned plenty of athletic activities including indoor and outdoor games and things with health-related topics.

“I come up with all kinds of games to play with the kids that involve extra physical activities,” he said.

Bobby Simily and James Abel recently joined together to teach Extreme Team at the middle school during summer school. They planned several activities with students which included going to the St. Francois State Park to see reptiles, dissect owl pellets and complete a creek walk; talk to a Washington County park ranger about resources in that career field; fish at Engler Park; and incentive trips like trips to the pool and movies.

Simily said he really enjoyed fishing with the kids. Some students even brought their own bait.

Sixth grader Hunter Williams said he really enjoyed the trips to the pool. “I’d be sitting in my room playing games if I didn’t come to summer school.”

Mia Perkins, another sixth grader, said she liked baking and was part of the Rainbow team. She also liked the field trips.

Bianca Cavelli enjoyed the frequent field trips but going to the Bonne Terre Space Museum was her favorite.

Conner Dunn, a seventh grader, said he enjoyed all the trips and looked forward to going to the Bonne Terre Family Fun Center.

Seventh grader Kaitlin Brill said she came to summer school to see her friends a little bit longer. “I definitely like the swimming and I can’t wait to go to the Family Fun Center to learn how to skate.”

Bryce Martin, also a seventh grader, enjoyed dodgeball. “Coach likes to yell at us when we’re playing and he makes it really fun. I’m enjoying summer school more than sleeping.”

“Summer school is fun plus you make lots of new friends,” he said.

Sierra Godat, another seventh grader, said although her parents made her attend summer school with her twin brother Kenny, she really enjoyed it. “Swimming and playing dodgeball with Coach Barnett are my favorite things so far.”

Krista Merseal, who has completed 13 years as an educator but was working her first year at summer school, said her mandatory academic classes were going very well.

“The kids have all been great and very respectful.”

Merseal worked with students in all academic areas. For science, they completed stories and comprehension questions using the website ReadWorks. Students also had independent reading time where they chose a book on their own and did a presentation at the conclusion of summer school. For social studies, students had been studying the Vietnam War and were shifting their focus to geography. They tried to cover different skills each week.

Students were looking forward to completing the project where they had to create their own societies with money, ways to trade, create their own homes, and then bury items to create archaeological digs later. Each group had to unearth the other groups’ items to help them determine what type of society they had created.

During summer school at West County, breakfast and lunch were provided free of charge to students.

High school students Mariah Storie, Jacob Lawson, Mykiah Perkins, Daniel Mackay and Jadyn Cartwright play Risk during a summer school class at West County.

High school students Mariah Storie, Jacob Lawson, Mykiah Perkins, Daniel Mackay and Jadyn Cartwright play Risk during a summer school class at West County.

Students work on coding in Joyce Choate’s fifth-grade classroom.

Students work on coding in Joyce Choate’s fifth-grade classroom.

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