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STEM summer school: No summer loss

Dothan, AL, principal expects to see student gains from summer camp

Published August 1, 2017
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At a glance

  • Girard Middle School plans to hold a STEM summer camp in June, expects around 100 attendees.
  • The summer camp will draw from Pitsco STEM lab materials and will include field trips and physical activities.

Darius McKay is passionate. The Girard Middle School principal is on a mission not only to remove his school from the “failing” list in Alabama – accomplished during his first year at the helm – but also to give his students opportunities and experiences that help them gain an academic edge over their peers.

Even during the summer, while most students will be on summer break, McKay expects a large number of Girard students to attend a new STEM summer camp, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each weekday in June. Getting students to choose another half day of school for part of their summer shouldn’t be difficult if Girard’s voluntary after-school program that includes STEM is a good barometer.

“We’ll probably have about 100 this summer,” McKay says of camp attendees. “If it’s any indication of how it will work out, our current after-school program is going well, so we’re hoping to carry on that same success.”

A comprehensive summer camp is being planned – plenty of hands-on STEM activities that utilize materials in the Pitsco Education STEM labs, as well as weekly field trips and physical activities such as dance and boxing. “The academics are important, but they also need to be kids. They need balance, so we’re going to provide that as well,” said McKay.

Ultimately, the second-year principal hopes that an emphasis on coding, computer programming, and robotics will enable students to avoid the well-documented summer loss that can occur when students receive little to no academic enrichment during the summer months. And he hopes a low-key approach helps students overcome fears tied to regular school courses in which they receive grades (not the case in summer camp).

“That’s another positive aspect of the summer program. You’re no longer experiencing summer loss, but you’re actually experiencing gains,” he said. “We have to create an environment that’s not judgmental, where we make it comfortable for them to make mistakes. We will constantly tell our students, ‘Hey, we want you to fail. That’s OK. We want you to experiment.’”


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