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APS Summer Academic Recovery Academy makes learning fun

by Thomas Scott
Rising second graders eager to learn in the summer Academic Recovery Academy at E. Rivers Elementary School.

When students are excited about going to school during the summer, the schools must be doing something right.

The Summer Academic Recovery Academy (ARA) at Atlanta Public Schools has seen an increase in enrollment each year since the program started in 2021. In addition to the measured academic growth the students are experiencing, they are also having fun in a school setting.

Rising second grader Josephine Van enjoys the PowerUp experiments in the ARA.

Josephine Van, a rising second grader at the E. Rivers Elementary School Summer ARA site, looks forward to coming to school while most other students’ summer break began a month ago.

“Summer school is fun. You get to learn,” she said. “It’s fun because you get to meet new people. You play with your friends and make new ones. You have PowerUp time where you make really cool experiments.”

Van learned quite a lot during a recent PowerUp experiment where students made “poop” cookies to learn about the digestive systems of different animals and was eager to share her new poop facts that she learned in school.

The ARA program rejuvenated Van’s interest in learning and helped her develop her social skills that she had difficulty refining while learning remotely during the pandemic.

“Her love of learning was a little bit impacted. She didn’t want to do it. She didn’t understand it. Trying to teach a four-year-old that you have to go to school on an iPad was very difficult,” her mother, Johana Kernizan-Van said. “In terms of her ability to focus, attend to tasks, fine motor skills with writing, understanding mathematical concepts and working independently as well as in a small group, I think that has helped tremendously since she been doing (ARA).”

Kernizan-Van, who is also an APS teacher who has instructed ARA classrooms for all three years of the program, has witnessed the growth of students firsthand.

Johana Kernizan-Van is both a parent and teacher who has seen the growth of students enrolled in ARA.

“I’ve seen students who’ve done ARA all three years and they’ve been back. Their parents have loved it,” she said. “They’ve seen the gaps starting to close more and more every summer. This summer, especially with the third graders I have, they’re much more independent, much more engaged. They are able to answer questions more readily and they are just loving the program.”

The students get to have fun outside of the classroom as well.

Mao Satoh, a 9-year-old rising fourth grader at E. Rivers Elementary, came to school in his Karou Mitoma Team Japan soccer jersey ready for his favorite part of ARA, Soccer in the Streets.

Soccer in the Streets is one of the community organizations partnered with the school to give the students an enrichment activity after they’ve spent the morning working on literacy and Math.

Mao’s mother, Anri Satoh, wanted to keep her child on track during the summer months, but studying from a textbook at home isn’t quite the same as being in a classroom.

“Trying to let them focus in-house is just really hard,” she said. “The ARA program is full of learning, but at the same time mixed with a little fun like the soccer program and PowerUp. Kids enjoy it more than the regular school days and Mao gets to see his friends. Compared to regular school days, it’s more like a camp style for the kids.”

ARA students rush to the board to play the word recognition game in class.

The Summer ARA program is also structured to care for the whole child. Each morning, before the students begin their literacy and math blocks, time is set aside for a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) period.

Students get time to express how they are doing, and teachers have the opportunity to gather some insight on what their students may be dealing with on any particular day.

“In our SEL program, we work on teaching students how to be good self-managers,” E. Rivers Elementary Lead Site Administrator Yolanda Harrell said. “We look at several different components like social awareness, social skills and their relationship building. They look at how they can also learn how to build not only relationships with each other, but relationships in general throughout the community with their family and other people they may meet in the community.”

Students in ARA start their day with a Social, Emotional Learning period.

This summer, just over 12,000 students were enrolled across 19 elementary schools, eight middle schools and seven high school sites.

Summer ARA is a catalyst for the growth APS students are achieving. Seventeen percent of ARA students who attended at least 18 days increased their proficiency levels from Beginning to Developing in Reading and Math, and 1% increased from Beginning to Proficient in Math.

Thirty-four percent of ARA students who attended more than 18 days exceeded their projected growth from the Winter 2022 to Winter 2023 Reading MAP assessment and 22% met their projected growth in Reading.

Thirty-six percent of ARA students who attended 18 or more days exceeded their projected growth from the Winter 2022 to Winter 2023 Math MAP assessment and 30% met their projected growth in Math.

“Whenever the parents get wind of what we are doing and they find out that we are not only focusing on academics but we’re also focusing on building the whole child, they begin to want their student to come so they can learn the social, emotional skills that they will need to be able to interact in the future with other students or adults,” Harrell said. “When I walk through the building, I get excited and see that they’re happy to be here. I love school and I want them to have the same love and passion that I have.”

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