Beyond the Books: Cedar Rapids summer program showing success

Kids on Course is a summer program offered to ensure students are staying on track to graduate.

No rush of bright yellow buses before and after school. No morning bells signifying the start of class. No bustling hallways as students rush from room to room.

While the academic calendar takes a three-month siesta for many Corridor kiddos, for some 800 Cedar Rapids elementary students, school is still in session.

Kids on Course is a summer program, offering an opportunity to pursue state benchmarks for students who may be struggling.

Kids on Course Director Amy Evans describes the program as a seven-week "camp or university" designed "to help kids make gains during the summer so they start the school year stronger than what they left."

The option differs from standard classroom learning, Evans explains, by offering an experience-first learning style.

For example, one lesson plan has students consider their dream party on a $300 budget, forcing the kids to think about the number of guests and the cost of food and drinks among other factors.

Jasselyne Angeles, a soon-to-be fourth grader at Taylor Elementary School, said the program is propelling her to new academic heights, attributing much of her growth to the lack of distractions.

"There's not a lot of kids," said Angeles, referring to the class size. "A lot of kids when I was in third grade would shout."

The potentially calmer learning environment has yielded strong results, with nearly 90 percent of participants seeing a reduction, elimination or reversal of the summer slide in reading in 2016.

Evans said she expects those numbers to continue to improve, as they have the previous four years (Kids on Course is in its fifth year).

Gisele Hedgmen, who is involved in Kids on Course and the Boys and Girls Club, said she enjoys the social aspect of the program, as the setup brings in kids from all 21 elementary schools in Cedar Rapids.

"I get to see all my friends, said Hedgmen, adding, "I get to make new ones."

Evans said she's seen both measurable and personal growth from attendees.

"We want to remove barriers for them, so when they struggle in reading or struggle in math, that we help them and support them, so that when they're starting the new school year, they are just as confident as anybody else walking through the door," said Evans.

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