“Can we see bacteria in the water?” Washington Middle School teacher Sara Joly asked a gathering of students at the 100 Acre Park.
“No,” said a student.
“Then how are we going to determine if there is bacteria in the creek and if it is good or bad? By collecting samples in three different areas: running water, still water and under the bridge, observing what lives in it and by taking photographs. We are looking for what we naturally see, such as fish or plant life, and also what humans may have added, like trash. We need to take precise notes on our findings so when we test the water, we have all the necessary written and visual facts.”
The students took water samples as part of the NYS Extended School Day grant-funded middle school summer reading program. Washington Middle School teachers Priscilla Menzies, Sara Joly, Jill Smeraldo and Amy Anderson, along with Darlinda Miktuk, from BOCES, developed a four-week environmental theme, which provided hands-on opportunities to link literacy to real-life skills and practical science knowledge about recycling, water experiments and alternative energy. Students read both fiction and non-fiction books and articles about the environment and created a computer newsletter containing articles, photos and headlines highlighting what they learned each week.
“Part of the Common Core Learning Standards is a focus on non-fiction text,” said Washington teacher Priscilla Menzies. “We focused on this over the summer reading program. Connecting the environment and science experiments helps enrich the non-fiction reading experience and makes it much more interesting to the students.”
The students loved the combination.
“I didn’t know anything about wind power and how it creates energy,” said Terrell Pearsall, who will enter seventh grade this year. “It really helps when you read about something then, do an experiment or write a newsletter because you remember the information and what to do with the English skills too.”
Each middle school held a voluntary four-week program during July. Reading and special education teachers collaborated to deliver instruction. Teachers used the Language! reading program, a comprehensive instructional program, for fifth and sixth grade JPS students. In addition to time spent on reading, a portion of each day was committed to enrichment activities. Lunch was provided at no cost to students through Chautauqua Opportunities.
Persell Middle School’s program explored careers through various literacy activities with teachers Lisa Stahlman-Colby, Melissa Forster and Jeannine VanAernum. Students took an online survey to identify their career interests. Once a career was chosen, students researched their choice using primary sources. The focus was on non-fiction text and the writing process, with the requirement to take notes in a college-level style. Students wrote job descriptions that conveyed what education/training was needed, the salary and job outlook. They used technology to research their careers, and Keynote or Comic Life software to create a class presentation. They completed job applications, talked about the interview process, wrote a resume, and discussed how being involved in extracurricular activities at school will help make them more well-rounded individuals. Three guests spoke about their career fields: Scott Forster on law enforcement, James Colby on visual and performing arts, and Ryan Jones on athletic careers.
“We wanted to combine literacy with something like career choices so that students could see the connection between the two,” said Persell teacher Jeannine VanAernum. “It forced students to think about, and talk about, their future and what they might want to do once they graduate. We also talked about other career paths such as vocational or technical colleges too. We wanted them to see all of the choices available while incorporating non-fiction reading and writing exercises.”
“I decided I want to be a forensic scientist,” said Persell student Lauren Garvey, who will enter seventh grade this year. “A forensic scientist, even though it’s a science career, uses English Language Arts to collect data and keep accurate notes on what they find. I also learned to really look at the details when I was doing the writing exercises, and that will help me if I want to be forensic scientist because it’s all in the details. Using careers made the ELA part sink in more. It helps you put it all together.”
Jefferson Middle School teachers Tambra Hallet, Susan Schrader and Elizabeth Pardue focused on four different themes: America, where students learned about American athletes competing in the London Olympics, read about American symbols, created an American windsock, and celebrated American Independence Day. Week two revolved around Nature. Students read about rocks, minerals and gemstones and examined real samples. They read the book, Wonder of Nature, studied and wrote authentic nature poems.
“I really loved nature week because I liked reading the Wonder of Nature and learning more about all of the different things that are in nature,” said Jefferson student Cheyenne Miller, who will be a seventh grader this year. “I think by doing more reading over the summer I’ll be a better reader when I go back to the school in the fall. I’ve already improved and really had fun!”
During Camping Week, students learned about setting up a tent and tent safety. They read Camping and Mystery at White Cloud Camp, and assembled first aid kits. In the final week, students learned all about ice cream. They delved into the history of ice cream, gathered facts about Perry’s Ice Cream and answered comprehensive questions. They read The Story of Ice Cream and How to Make Ice Cream and then, made their own zip-lock bag ice cream. Students compared and contrasted their homemade ice cream with store-bought brands, and maintained a Summer Reading Scrapbook where they described what they had read and learned throughout the program.
“We definitely saw improvement in students’ guided reading levels and fluency gains,” said Jefferson Middle School teacher Susan Schrader. “I think the Summer Reading Program is so important because it helps students to not regress over the summer. I believe it engages student in reading more and excites them to be interested in reading.”