Summer scholars: A head start for South County kids

In a classroom on a recent sunny summer day at Grover Beach Elementary, some soon-to-be-second-grade students focused on their writing.

Caelan Morgan said he’s working on a story about a zombie and an ant that meet for a game of basketball.Spoiler alert: It appears the zombie is going to win.

Caelan, 7, nodded when asked if he enjoys summer school, and added: “I can play with my friends.”

Caelan and his peers are participating in what longtime teacher Suzanne Martin calls a “writer’s workshop” — but they’re also getting a head start on second grade.

“They’ve already done the first chapter of second-grade math,” Martin said. “They’re already doing second-grade work. They can hit the ground running.”

The students are 24 of about 400 Lucia Mar school district students participating in a new twist on the traditional summer school program: The class lasts a full school day, and students focus on core subject areas, including math, reading comprehension and writing.

Students were asked to participate based on their test scores and, in some cases, on teacher recommendations. The students come from schools currently in program improvement, meaning the schools had failed to meet certain progress goals, part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, for two straight years.

To be removed from the list, schools must meet the federal standards for two consecutive years.

The program improvement schools in the Lucia Mar district include Nipomo Elementary, Grover Beach Elementary, Lange Elementary, Judkins Middle School and Mesa Middle School.

Like many school districts in the area, Lucia Mar trustees voted to cut back on summer school offerings this year. The $107,000 cost of this summer school comes from federal funds, said Andy Stenson, Lucia Mar’s assistant superintendent of curriculum.

Twenty-three teachers tested the students when summer school started July 12, and they’ll test again before school ends Aug. 6.

Administrators will review results to see how effective the program has been, and decide whether to continue it next summer, said Danielle Seiler, the lead teacher for the Grover Beach Elementary program.

A few doors down from Caelan’s class, 15 middle school students are working on pre-algebra and algebra.

Two students said the smaller class size allows them much more one-on-one time with teacher Jesse Dorn than they’d likely receive during the normal school year.

“I’ll sit down one-on-one with each kid,” said Dorn, a math teacher and football coach at Nipomo High School. “In a class of 35, I don’t have that luxury.”

Meanwhile, back in Martin’s class, Angel Najera is writing about superpowers. Specifically, the superpowers he and his friends have, including his ability to shoot lasers from his eyes.

“Caelan took my glasses off and then the mountains blew up,” Angel said. The 6-year-old said he enjoys math, but when asked which subject he likes best, he replied: “Recess.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.