Yorkshire Elementary dabbles in arts to boost reading, math skills in summer school

Yorkshire Elementary summer school principals Matthew Meyer and Melissa Querry had one main goal when they planned this year’s program: Make it feel like summer camp.

Yes, the 400-plus students attending the session are there chiefly to shore up their reading or math skills. But, they asked, why not make it fun? So the two hired art, music and physical education teachers from across the county to come in and jazz up the summer curriculum.

“We felt like our ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] kids, if they’re still having difficulty with their sight words and those things in third and fourth grade, there’s got to be a different approach,” Querry said. “So maybe it is singing a song or a rap, maybe it is moving and doing dances.”

They have not yet collected data on the academic results of the program, which ended July 31, Querry said. But attendance rates were better this year than last, which she thinks shows that the kids were excited about the program.

“Sometimes the older students start to feel a little disengaged with learning when they know that they have a weakness,” Querry said. “But here everybody is involved, helping each other. Just now one of them messed up their lines in Reader’s Theater and the other ones were encouraging them to try it again, do it this way.”

The students, first- through fifth-graders, rotated through the special classes several times during the four-week summer school session. And while they’re having fun in art, music and physical education, the teachers are sneakily reinforcing math and literacy concepts.

P.E. teacher Cindy Probus, for example, may have students recite a multiplication fact before taking a shot on a soccer goal. Or art teacher Lee Darter may use paint mixed with anything from salt to rubbing alcohol to illustrate cause and effect, a key literacy skill for fourth-graders.

In Reader’s Theater, the students memorized and recited parts, which helped them with fluency and presentation skills and provided an opportunity to discuss problems and solutions in literature. In music, students used songs and chants to learn about setting and characters. They also used instruments to create musical programs based on stories.

“I wish in the real world it could always work like this,” Darter said of the collaboration between the arts and the classroom teachers. “They’re really excited about being here. It’s like camp, but they’re learning in the classroom, too. And I don’t have to grade it.”

There are two types of summer school in Prince William County: site-based, where all of the students attend their home school, and central-based, where students from several neighboring schools gather at one location. Yorkshire’s program is site-based. The school has high percentages of those learning English and students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches. Nearly half of the approximately 950 students qualified to attend summer school this year.

Most of the classroom teachers come from Yorkshire, and Querry is a third-grade teacher at Yorkshire during the school year. The specialists were drawn from schools all over the county. Matthew Meyer is the music teacher at Cedar Point Elementary School in Bristow, and his wife, Ashley, is from Martin Luther King Elementary School in Woodbridge. Probus teaches at T. Clay Wood in Nokesville. Darter also is from Cedar Point.

“We wanted to bring in great teachers who would buy into the program,” Querry said.

Students and teachers spent part of their last week at summer school preparing a program for Superintendent Steven Walts and parents and members of the community. Probus and Meyer were rehearsing song-and-dance routines to World Cup anthems “We Are One” and “Wavin’ Flag,” respectively.

“Our umbrella theme was learning around the world,” Querry said. “ ‘Wavin’ Flag’ kind of ties it together. It’s about respecting the culture and the heritage that they came from.”

Principal Meyer joined the normally self-conscious fourth-graders who were going all out, enthusiastically shaking their hips and waving their arms. Who would have thought summer school could be so much fun?

“We have children here that are Level 1, with very little English, that come from a different country in Central America, that have never been to school before, all the way up to Level 6,” Querry said. “The art, music and P.E. piece levels the playing field. They’re equal to their peers in that regard.”

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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