HELENA — At three Helena elementary schools, educators say the atmosphere Monday was like the first day of school. About 300 students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, arrived on campus for the start of summer school programs the school district is calling “Camp Ascension.”
“It’s just so amazing to see all of these kids in the building for some extra learning opportunities, and it’s just great that the school district was able to pull this together,” said Bryant Elementary School principal Trish Klock.
This is the first time Helena Public Schools are doing full-fledged summer school for elementary school students. Administrators say they’ve been looking at doing it since seeing how many students had more academic needs after a year heavily impacted by COVID-19, with time spent in and out of the classroom.
“We found that some students needed a little extra support, and that’s what we’re here for,” said Lona Carter, who is the principal of Jefferson Elementary and is administering the Camp Ascension program at Central School.
School leaders identified the students they thought would benefit from Camp Ascension and invited them to participate. The district will host about 100 at each of its newest school buildings – Bryant, Central and Jim Darcy. That means kids from various different schools will be learning together.
“Just having the kids and the families come in this morning, they were really excited to see friends,” Carter said. “They’ve already really made connections and will have those friends across our Helena community, so that’s a win.”
In the morning, classes will do core reading and math instruction. The afternoons will be for less formal activities, either in the school or on field trips. The goal is to create an atmosphere that feels more like summer camp than summer school.
“Our very first out-of-school field trip is actually an all-school hike up Mount Helena,” Klock said. “It’s going to be really fun to just see the kids in the different areas around the community, and just some fun activities for them to participate in.”
Each campus has set aside one classroom per grade level. Every class has a teacher and a paraeducator. The district is providing breakfast and lunch, and counselors, librarians and other staff will be on hand. In some ways, the work needed to put Camp Ascension on isn’t very different from a typical school day.
“We kind of have a mini whole school right here for summer school,” said Carter.
Camp Ascension will be running Monday through Thursday for the next seven weeks. Administrators say, at the end of that time, they hope to see academic growth – but that’s only part of it.
“More importantly, I want them to feel like this is a family and that they were able to have fun with their family for the summer – and learn along the way,” said Klock.
Helena middle schools also began Camp Ascension programs Monday. At that level, they will focus both on core academic needs and on credit recovery. In Helena and Capital High School, summer school will still be primarily for making up credit.