The Lakewood School District is offering a unique variety of project-based summer school courses this year at their first ‘Lakewood Summer Academy’ program.

Teachers had more freedom to propose courses they were passionate about this year.

“We said ‘we want to put together this fun, engaging, hands-on experience. Forget what you teach in your classroom, what do you want to teach about,’” said Joey Wasson, summer academy principal. “That’s why we’re calling it ‘summer academy’ instead of ‘summer school,’ because we want it to be a totally different feel."

Students who are a part of the program are learning about a variety of subjects, including project-based science classes or putting on a drama production.

“The farm-to-classroom class is one where the teacher has helped kids mill flour into wheat, she brought goats onto campus, and they have their own little garden plot going on,” said Wasson.

Teacher Tammy Awe said her students have built fish tanks and terrariums, learned about single-use plastics and experimented with density by seeing how objects float.

“It’s been great doing project-based learning. I think kids learn from the hands-on and having an experiment to try and re-do,” she said.

Teacher David Corvin is running a course on board game design where students get to create a board game prototype.

“I think it’s been really interesting just to see the creativity of the kids and they’re able to go off in wild directions I wouldn’t have thought of,” he said. “It makes me excited to see what they can do.”

Designing the game systems encourages students to think carefully about what their product is doing.

“I want them to think critically and deeply. When they’re playing a game I want them to think ‘why is this fun, what is the moment that hooked me?’” said Corvin. “Thinking critically like that is something that they can apply to any product.”

The program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was funded primarily with federal pandemic relief funds.

Wasson’s job with the district is helping students catch up on learning they missed because of the disruptions of the last couple of years.

“How can we get their learning accelerated to get them back to standard. One of the ways we wanted to do that was around summer school,” she said.

Parents agreed with the district that a summer school program could help bring students' learning back up.

“We wanted it to be something that was fun, engaging and hands-on,” said Wasson. “We do want it to be rigorous, but not traditionally rigorous.”

The Lakewood Summer Academy has been successful in pulling more students back to the classroom during their summer break.

“We doubled our enrollment from our traditional summer school,” said Wasson. “We’ve had kids in first session who come back and say ‘we want to get signed up for second session,’ but our second session is full already."

Feedback has been positive about the program so far, which will run until Aug. 4.

“This is our first year trying it out and I think so far we feel like it’s been pretty successful,” said Wasson. “We hope to expand and continue.”

Next year she hopes to bring in more community members to teach their specialties and hopes to bring in more culturally diverse courses as well.

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