The three-week summer academy at Washington Elementary School is a jumpstart to the school year and is funded through the School Improvement Grant

Washington Elementary School has given its students a jumpstart on the school year with a three-week summer academy that ended Thursday.

Through the School Improvement Grant, a three-year Oregon Department of Education grant awarded to Tier 1, or the 5 percent lowest-achieving, schools, Washington is able to reach out to about 120 targeted youths in grades K-5 who are struggling in reading and LINDSAY KEEFER - Lindsay Keefer | Woodburn Independent
Washington Elementary School's Summer Academy ran Aug. 5-22 and targeted students K-5 who needed help in reading and math. Eighth-grade volunteer Fidel Herrera works on a counting project with first-grader Raymen Reyes.

“Summer school is typically in June and July, but this is in August so there isn’t that gap between the summer school program and the start of the school year,” explained Mateo Courtney, dean of students.

To assist 12 teachers in the intense jumpstart program, which started Aug. 5, the school solicited a total of 45 volunteers from Woodburn middle and high schools.

“That gives the kids more one-on-one,” explained Courtney. “It’s also a different dynamic with the students because they can serve as a younger sort of role model for our students to look up to.”

Teachers are also grateful for the additional hands on deck.

“I recruited some of my former students, and they’re in middle school so they’re not doing it for volunteer hours, but because of their good character,” said Lynne Koenig, an instructional coach at Washington who served as a first-grade instructor during the summer academy. “We work in small groups and that helps me out. I can assess much easier, going from group to group, and not have to work on managing the groups at the same time.”

by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Teacher Lynne Koenig helps first-grader Daniel Ceja with counting blocks during Washington Elementary School's summer academy, which wrapped up last week.And the students are enjoying it too, including Mayra Ibarra, a junior at Wellness, Business and Sports School who is considering a career in which she could work with children in some capacity.

“I enjoyed helping the teacher, helping her organize, setting things up,” she said. “I think having watched my little brothers really helped to prepare me.”

Courtney said these students donated $11,000 worth of volunteer time, having calculated that by multiplying their hours logged with the minimum wage.

Courtney said that most of these students have never had a job and that the summer academy is a way to provide them with the tools they need to move on to that next step.

“They didn’t have to interview but they had to fill out a form, they were given the same expectations that they would have with a job and similar responsibilities,” Courtney said.

“We’re helping them build the skills they’ll need in the work force. We want them to be successful in their next step, whether that’s college or a career.”

Courtney added that students keep a time card and he also keeps tracks of their hours.

“I can serve as a job reference for them,” he said.

This is Washington’s third and final year with the grant money, so the future of summer academy is a bit uncertain.

But Principal Juan Larios said the grant has also provided technology and professional development that will last longer than the grant.

“We won’t be able to offer (summer programs) on as grand a scale as we are now, but we’ve established sustainable practices to help make it possible, to make an impact,” he said.

As for this year’s summer academy, he’s grateful for the support from older students.

“We’re fortunate the high school students are seeking to give back,” he said. “They’ve been great.”

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