ANACORTES — Incoming kindergartners sat on a rug in an Island View Elementary School classroom on a recent morning practicing their rhyming.
Across the hall, students talked about their field trip the day before, discussing saltwater and sand dunes, and drawing pictures of each scene in a composition book.
At the end of the hall, M.J. D’Amelio and her group of first-grade students sat around a blow-up campfire, holding hands and sharing their highlight for the day in whispers.
“Marcus, what’s something you liked about today?” D’Amelio asked.
“Half of everything,” 6-year-old Marcus responded.
Island Elementary School was hosting IMPACT, a four-week summer school program offered by the Anacortes School District to help those entering kindergarten to the third grade stem summer learning loss and catch up to grade level standards.
The program was started this summer as an offshoot of Jump Start, a three-week summer program started five years ago to help incoming kindergartners prepare for school.
The 100 students in the IMPACT program work with 10 teachers and 10 paraeducators, with a focus of the small classes on hands-on learning.
The program is funded by community partners including the Anacortes Schools Foundation and service clubs.
“So much of learning needs to be hands on, and we feel that if we can tap into that hands-on learning experience, the kids are going to retain some of that extra knowledge building that sometimes we miss,” said program director Chad Sage.
Early in the week, students are introduced to elements that will be part of their Wednesday field trip.
The midweek excursions then give them the chance to use their knowledge. In the days after their adventure, they debrief and reflect on themes both large and small.
“We’re hoping to connect all that they’re learning in language arts and math to the topic of the field trip so it really gives them purpose for applying the learning,” program architect Nicole Mortimer said. “It makes it all connected.”
Because some of this inquiry-based learning is innovative and distinct from lessons during the school year, teachers taking part in the IMPACT program received professional development training.
The district decided to focus the program on incoming K-3 students because a study found that 30 percent of district K-3 students are below grade level standards.
Because research shows that drop-out rates and academic struggles are connected to success in this age range, the program seeks to identify and offer greater assistance to students who are behind.
Kids who would benefit from the program are often referred by teachers, Sage said. To make the program more accessible, lunch and transportation are provided.
“The last thing we want to do is exclude kids,” Sage said. “All they have to bring is themselves and a green folder, and we provide everything else.”
After lunch and recess, students take part in sessions in areas such as music and movement, yoga, theater and Lego robotics. Mortimer said activities were chosen that emphasize self-regulation, expression, creativity and self-reflection.
“(They are) enriching activities that students may not be getting in the summertime,” she said. “Connecting their body, mind and creativity is important.”