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Staying Cool In School

Summer School Learning in Greenwich.

students will return to classrooms later this month after spending their summer vacations in a variety of ways; attending camp, on family trips, spending time with friends, working etc.

But for approximately 825 students, they will go back to school and talk about…school! Slightly less than 10 percent of the GPS student population continued beyond the normal school year and attended summer school classes either at if they are in Pre-K to Grade 5 or at  if they are Middle School or High School. This is the last week of GPS' Summer School, which will end on Friday, Aug. 12.

Students attend summer school for a variety of reasons. Some students seek to obtain extra credit or acceleration, some attend simply for enrichment or review and some take the opportunity to make-up courses where they previously may have struggled.

As in previous summers, there was a diverse offering of classes which
span from purely academic to learning study skills or exploring new
areas of academic or creative interest.

Jennifer Bencivengo, assistant principal at is the summer school coordinator. She is assisted by Ellen Murdock and Secondary Site Supervisor Barbara Varanelli.

The Pre-K and Elementary Program ran in two sessions with Session I running from July 5 to July 22 and Session II from July 25 to Aug. 12. Pre-K students attended from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. while Kindergarten through Grade 5 attended from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. daily.

There were approximately 380 students in each session with 75 percent of the students choosing to attend both. Murdock said that it is not uncommon for a student to initially enroll only in the first session and then want to continue in the next session as well. This summer 23 classes at Cos Cob School were filled including one Pre-K class.

The “World of Discovery” elementary program includes reading, writing, and math instruction to accelerate and/or close gaps in achievement. Students also participate in art and physical education classes. 

This summer there are a total of 5 Pre-K classes which include 10 students who have had no prior Pre-K exposure. The Summer School experience will certainly help prepare this youngsters entry into Kindergarten later this month.

Murdock said that the staff includes in District teachers, many of whom are repeats year after year. "The summer is such a rewarding experience for them, that they return", explained Murdock.

"We have a tremendous staff at both sites and wonderful leadership with Ellen Murdock and Barbara Varinelli. They have done a fantastic  job of assuring our students a memorable summer school experience," said Bencivengo.

This summer there were also four interns, one of which was Devan Fitzpatrick who is about to graduate from Manhattanville with a dual Masters Degree in Childhood Education and Special Education. Fitzpatrick received an undergraduate degree in English and Art History from Colby College.

The Secondary program is five weeks long with some classes being three weeks with a few two-week enrichment classes. There were approximately 350 students at GHS in grades 6-12.

Students attended a variety of core academic courses including a full set of Math, Reading, Writing and Science programs. The effectiveness of the classes were reported at the December 2, 2010 Board of Education meeting. Students take assessment tests upon entry into and completion of the courses and the gains in scores were impressive with a low percentage increase of 7 percent and a high of 209 percent. 

The Bridge to Algebra course saw students’ entry scores average 27 percent on the assessment but they achieved average scores of 86 percent on the final, a 58 point increase. Many other courses saw gains in the 50-100 percent range. Per Bencivengo, the Math Bridge classes were well attended with some of the highest enrollment. These courses are enrichment classes taken to advance to either Math 6A, Pre-Algebra, or Algebra in the middle school. Also popular was Algebra 1 with a combination of students taking it for enrichment and credit recovery.

One of the more unique courses offered is the “Skills for Success Program” developed in 2007 as a pilot program and then becoming part of the summer school offerings in 2008. As described in the December, 2010 monitoring report, “this program was developed for students below goal in reading, writing, math and/or organizational skills who are transitioning from the middle school to the high school.”

It is a five-week, four hour per day intensive program that includes focused academic support in core academic courses with an emphasis on helping students improve organizational and study skills. There is both peer and adult mentoring provided. Students who struggled on the 8th grade CMT are invited to attend as a means of giving them core skills to enable to succeed at the high school level.

Last Thursday morning, Board Chairman Steven Anderson went back to school himself. Anderson, along with Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ellen Flanagan, visited every class at Cos Cob School with Bencivengo and Murdock.

Anderson said, "I was impressed with the tight educational focus being given to these children."

During the regular school year, the childern attend elementary schools all over the district. To be able to focus on the students during the summer session, the summer school staff receives data and other information on the students from their prior year's teacher. This interface impressed Anderson; "I am also very pleased to hear about the effective communications that take place between the Summer School staff and the child's base school year building staff so that everyone is on the same page as to how we are growing that particular student's educational capabilities."

Summer School serves to reinforce academic performance, whether it is for remediation or advancement. Regardless of the intent, the results are a benefit to the students. "We've seen it in the numbers; a tight educational focus in Summer School can really help elevate a student's learning abilities," said Anderson.

Dr. Sidney Freund, Superintendent of the Greenwich Public School System, was a frequent visitor to the schools during the school year. The last week saw him visiting Cos Cob with two special assistants: Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Amber, age 9, and Radar, age 3, came along with Freund to "read" with the children. Amber and Radar are no strangers to GPS; they visited Summer School last year also in addition to and the. It was another example how the program combines a focus on helping the students improve their academic skills while also injecting a measure of fun into the day so they can say that they not only learned, but enjoyed themselves over the summer as well.

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