Grants

GBCS Summer Academy - Watershed Exploration

Final Narrative – September 2018

 

The objective of our GBCS Summer Academy - Watershed Exploration, was to use field trips to engage students in literacy, mathematics, and science, combat summer learning loss, and improve our attendance. This year our theme was watersheds, starting with our onsite One Mile Run stream that runs into the Raritan River and culminating in a field trip to Sandy Hook National Seashore. With the aid of the Rutgers Community health grant we were able to implement enriching field trips, combat summer learning loss, and increase our attendance from 64-90%.

Number of Participants

Our academy ran for 20 days in July and enrolled 146 students in grades Pre-K to 7th. There were 9 teachers, 5 teaching assistants, 3 high school student volunteers, an on-site nurse and a coordinator of the program. We also utilized community connections:  a naturalist facilitated classes on stream life, volunteer gardeners taught about our rain garden, a Rutgers doctoral student taught our older students about our waterways, and a volunteer from Rutgers Cooperative Extension gave lessons at and about our stream, Mile Run.

Number of Trips

We took the students on three field trips:  Canoeing on the Delaware and Raritan Canal, Watershed Institute-Pennington, NJ,  and Sandy Hook Beach.

Educational Sessions

The summer academy sessions were held July 2 - 30 (no school July 4) from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm. One exception was for the Sandy Hook trip which lasted until 3:30. Each day the students received 90 minute instruction in both language arts and math. They also received breakfast every day during the program.

The teachers used data from the previous school year in order to plan their lessons. They designed lessons that incorporated the watershed theme. There were projects, posters and plays that highlighted our watershed. The first day students were assessed in both Math and Language Arts.  This was used as a baseline to determine academic growth over the 20 days. At the end, they completed a final assessment.

Recruitment Efforts

Reading, writing and math data was collected throughout the year and analyzed in order to determine which students would most benefit from this program. This included students who would benefit from extra academic work and students who were most susceptible to  “summer learning loss.” Students were invited to attend the Summer Academy by their teachers. Teachers spoke to parents about how the program would benefit their child.  

After registration was complete all parents were required to meet with the program coordinator to discuss the value of Summer Academy and  the important roles of parents, students, and teachers.   They signed an “attendance contract” and a “parent/student compact”. This was completed before students began classes.

The contract stated that students could miss no more than two days of the 20 day program. The compact was signed by the parent, the student and the student’s teacher.  The compact included a description of what all parties agreed to do in order for the student to be successful. For example, getting plenty of rest, completing assignments, and providing high quality curriculum in a supportive environment.

Highlights

Undoubtedly, the highlights of the Summer Academy include the high level of engagement, academic gains, and improved attendance,  which are attributed to the addition of field trips and community visitors. The canoe trip was something that most of our students had never done before.  Not only did they learn about the canal they were on and how it connects to the watershed, but also how to row a canoe!   We paired two older students with two younger ones and off they went! It was a great day of exploration, teamwork and education.

The trip to the Watershed Institute was a rewarding experience. Students had a day of exploration as the guides went seining in the lakes and engaged the students in learning about what was found. This trip proved to be an authentic assessment, one where students applied what they had learned at GBCS and in watersheds by asking thoughtful and relevant academic questions, holding educated conversations, and sharing their knowledge with the guides and peers. 

Finally, the trip to Sandy Hook gave our students exposure to more new things as well as information about the watershed. They collected shells at the beach, learned what affect Hurricane Sandy had on the area’s waterways and put on rubber boots and went seining, collecting plant and animal life from the bay. It was a great experience for everyone involved!

In addition to the trips, our guest teachers brought a lot of experience and information to us. The naturalist gave lessons on waterlife and had a great “fish painting” project for students to create. The doctoral student from Rutgers is in the Graduate School of Ecology and Evolution shared information with our older students about marine and tidal marsh ecology. Gardeners gave great lessons and interactive experiences with our rain garden,  highlighting  how it connects to the watershed.  In addition, students had guided visits to our stream, Mile Run, to do water testing and observe wildlife.


Finally, one of our greatest highlights is that we had almost 90% of our students in attendance every day. That’s a huge improvement from the 64% in the previous year. We can credit the parent orientation meeting, the teachers creative and interesting lessons, the field trips, the addition of 4 days (making it a 5 day a week program) and the students who were more enthusiastic to be in the program due to all of the above.

 

Challenges

We have been happily challenged by parent request to expand our program calendar, beyond the 20 days. The three biggest obstacles to expand the calendar are: increased teacher salaries, additional funding needed for field trips, and providing our custodial staff enough time to clean our building before the start of the new school year.

Another challenge we faced was parent fears and concerns regarding field trips.  Many parents had never been to the places we took our students and were nervous to send their children. In the future we need to improve parent education in relation to field trips.  We would like to host an additional parent orientation to focus on field trips, what students will do, what is involved and how we will keep their children safe.

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