By B.C. Manion
A summer program aimed at giving children of poverty the same sorts of experiences enjoyed by their wealthier peers has attracted national acclaim for Pasco County Schools.
The public school district devised two summer camp experiences for children coming from district schools with the greatest concentration of low-income families.
In one camp, the youngsters spent a week engaged in hands-on environmental lessons connected to the state’s academic standards.
The lessons were held at four different sites, with activities ranging from kayaking and seining to classroom work focused on tracking the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its potential impact on marine and estuarine environments.
In the technology camp, children were issued a laptop and iPod Nano to take home and were taught how to plan, write and produce movies and podcasts.
The first movie they completed was a film about their own lives. The last one was a public service announcement.
The summer camps were open only to children who are entering fourth- and fifth-grades in the district’s Title I schools, which include Cox, Lacoochee, Pasco, West Zephyrhills and Chester Taylor elementary schools.
Schools are designated Title I based on the percentage of their students who meet the federal eligibility requirements for free or reduced-price lunch.
The summer camps yielded impressive academic gains.
Students taking part in the environmental camp demonstrated an average gain of 24 percent, with youngsters from the higher poverty schools performing even better, with an average gain of 41 percent.
Students in the technology camp also experienced academic success, based on the pre- and post-test results.
Before beginning the technology camp, the students, on average, were able to correctly answer 38 out of 65 questions; after the camp, the average number of correct responses improved with students getting 55 out of 65 right.
The district’s program impressed an independent panel of judges so much that it awarded Pasco County Schools one of three grand prizes in the American School Board Journal’s 17th annual Magna Awards competition. The other school districts attaining that distinction were the Moreland School District in San Jose, Calif. and the Joplin (Mo.) Schools.
The Pasco district received its award in the category of school districts exceeding 20,000 students
“We are terribly thrilled,” said Elena Garcia, supervisor of Pasco County Schools’ Title 1 program.
Research shows that family income can play a more significant role in student achievement than traditional factors, such as race and ethnicity, the school district noted in its application for the award.
“One root cause is limited exposure to experiences that promote intellectual development,” the application notes. “The District School Board of Pasco County believes in and supports the notion that increasing a student’s exposure to quality experiences can greatly influence a child’s potential to succeed,” the application adds.
Garcia was quick to credit Laura Hill, the supervisor of kindergarten through 12th-grade science and the environmental summer camp’s lead teachers Jeanne Knight, Mark Butler and Donna Koljeski for developing the curriculum and preparing teachers to present it.
Garcia also lauded the efforts of Brian Schulz, the Title I program specialist, Jay Feliciani, supervisor of instructional media and technology, and lead teacher Michelle Lattke, for their leadership in making the technology camp a success.
The American School Board Journal initiated the Magna Awards in 1995 to recognize school boards for taking bold and innovative steps to improve their educational program, according to a news release issued by the NSBA.
More than 350 entries were submitted in this year’s competition, representing more than 40 states, the news release states.
Besides bringing honor to the school district, the award — which is supported by Sodexo School Services — includes $4,000 in scholarship money.
The award will be presented at the 71st NSBA Annual Conference, scheduled for April 8-11 in San Francisco.