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Summer school kicks off with expanded programs in Oregon's largest districts

Officials from the Portland, Salem-Keizer and Beaverton school districts said COVID-relief dollars have boosted summer programming this year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Summer is here and students are out of school, but some are going right back in to take part in summer programs.

This week, the gym at McDaniel High School in Northeast Portland was filled with students. They are a part of the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) Trajectory Summer Math Program, one of the many summer programs being offered through Portland Public Schools (PPS).

“[It’s] aimed at helping kids, particularly kids of color, improve their math skills over summer,” said Marshall Haskins, senior director of athletics for PPS. Haskins is also one of the program administrators.

The program began during the height of pandemic in 2020 with just 40 students. Now it has grown to serve 160 students. Haskins said district data showed a large percentage of Black and Indigenous students weren't meeting academic benchmarks by the time they hit 8th grade. This specific effort started in the hopes of changing their trajectory.

“We have two sites, one’s at Roosevelt, one’s here at McDaniel and we have a full day,” Haskins said.

The days, for students mainly in grades 6-8, have alternating periods focused on academics, sports, field trips and other enrichment.

Credit: Christine Pitawanich/KGW
Students in the Trajectory Summer Math Program at PPS' McDaniel High School

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“This year all the kids are learning to play guitar and at the end of the summer, they're going to take a guitar home. So we're pretty excited about that,” said Haskins.

According to Haskins, students will have other experiences, like visiting a construction site and learning about the math that’s involved in jobs in that field.

This summer's $15 million programming is the most robust in PPS and state history, PPS officials said in a news release. In addition to academic programming, the district is partnering with more than 50 community organizations and providing free summer enrichment camps and programs to over 7,500 students across the district.

“What has come out of the pandemic and what has come out of the extra dollars that we've been receiving for summer programming is a lot more outside-the-box thinking about how we can meet students where students are,” said Nichole Spearman-Eskelsen, summer programs coordinator for Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS). 

At SKPS, preparations are underway for the bulk of summer programming to start in July. Throughout the pandemic, Spearman-Eskelsen said programs have continued to expand. She said targeted groups include incoming kindergarteners and students in second and third grade.

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“Really trying to bring them up to grade level, because we've seen that there wasn't as much retention through COVID,” said Spearman-Eskelsen.

Additionally, she said there has been an expansion of summer programming when it comes to the Unified Sports Program, which pairs special education students with non-special education students. 

Spearman-Eskelsen said this past year was the first time the Unified Sports Program was offered in the summer. This year, art was added to the Unified program. District officials added that all summer programs were open to special education students.

Spearman-Eskelsen said the district was also offering about 14 enrichment camps. Each had a cap of 25 students, and she said there was a lottery system used to select students for the programs.

Also new to Salem-Keizer Public Schools this summer is the expansion of what it calls “Pre-K Startups,” where incoming kindergartners have a chance to visit their school before the year starts in order to get acquainted with the space. Spearman-Eskelsen said in previous years, only some elementary schools had that opportunity. Now, all elementary schools will get a chance to welcome kindergartners into school early.

In the Beaverton School District, Vanessa Davalos said the district is prioritizing students with disabilities and students who have been historically underserved. Davalos is new to the district and was hired as the administrator for extended learning and family engagement, a new position.

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She said the district is serving more students than ever before. According to Davalos, in summer of 2020 the district served 2,062 students. In 2021, she said 6,115 students were enrolled. This summer, so far, Davalos said 6,595 students are enrolled with more expected to enroll before summer programs begin.

“Up to 100 students per elementary school, at the middle school level 100 to 200 students at every middle school and at the high school level 300 to 400 students at each high school,” said Davalos.

Davalos said due to COVID-relief funding, the district has also been able to expand programming across the board. She said now every elementary school has a program called “Camp Achieve” and middle schools are also benefiting.

“Middle school was very light in summer programming before we had funding, and they had little to none to offer to students. Now we have programs offered at every middle school for our upcoming sixth graders ,” said Davalos, who also said credit recovery programming at the high school level was also expanded.

Back at McDaniel High School in Portland, juniors and seniors are also involved in the district's Trajectory Summer Math Program as paid coaches. They also get three college credits for taking a class at Portland Community College called "Intro to Education 101."

“So we could begin to build a pipeline of potential teachers,” said Haskins.

“It's bigger than just the money. It's the kid at the end of the day,” said Josiah Barr, when asked why he decided to be a coach. Barr is a soon-to-be senior and plays basketball in the district. He said he also planned to play football next school year.

“It's really good to give them a little boost during summer so they know what to expect during school,” said student athlete and coach Aaliyah Salvador, who is also a soon-to-be senior.

PPS said there are over 500 youth employment opportunities in 36 of the programs, where high school students can earn significant wages while also exploring careers from science, technology, child care, education and the arts.

Adult athletic coaches of color are also involved in the program.

“We have a program called Coach to the Classroom where we’re trying to get predominantly minority coaches who have been coaches for years […] to become a teacher,” said Haskins.

Students will get a boost in math but will also get a boost in a different way as well. The program is incentivized. Students who participate get a shirt, shorts, Nike socks, shoes, and at the very end of the program will also get a pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers.

Credit: Christine Pitawanich/KGW
Student in the Trajectory Summer Math Program at PPS' McDaniel High School getting fitted for shoes



Haskins said the activities that students engage in through the program underscore the importance of math not only in school, but in the real world.

While the PIL Trajectory Summer Math Program was first offered to student athletes in sixth through eighth grade, it was eventually opened up to other students in the district.

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