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Klamath Schools operate a robust summer program

Klamath Falls City Schools are offering over 45 different summer camps, many based at the high school.
Klamath Falls City Schools are offering over 45 different summer camps, many based at the high school.

Like many other school districts around the country, Klamath Falls City Schools mobilized quickly to put federal and state pandemic-related dollars to work to pay for summer school programs. The district is hosting more than 45 free in-person summer camps for students who spent much of the year learning remotely. Gayle Yamasaki and Dan Stearns, co-coordinators of the summer programs, tell us about the unique offerings this year.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: Despite the fact that it is the middle of July, school is in session at Klamath Union High School. The sign at the entrance tells students where to go. “Math is downstairs in Room 104, Volleyball is in the Large Gym so Wrestling is in the Auxiliary one and Cheer Camp is in the Library right above us”.  Summer school is not new to Klamath schools, but a huge infusion of federal COVID relief money has transformed it. I’m joined by the two coordinators of the Klamath Falls District’s Summer programs, Gayle Yamasaki and Dan Stearns. The two of you have been putting [summer programs] on or helping to organize them for years. What have they been like in the past?

Gayle Yamasaki:  In the past, what we’ve really focused is on academic enrichment.  What that means is kids get english, math and other activities. But primarily [we’ve been] looking at how to keep kids on track to graduate, whether they’re in elementary school, middle or high school. So it’s been focused mostly on academics in the past. But this year it’s been really different.

Miller:  So Dan, how different is it this year?

Dan Stearns:  It’s the variety as you were saying. So we’re almost at full capacity at KU right now.  We normally have about 600 students in the building. I think we’re at 400 plus outside, inside, all around the place.

Miller:  In a normal summer this high school wouldn’t be at two-thirds capacity?

Stearns:  So we might have a credit recovery here or a certain summer program going on, but not to this extent. I think we’re up to 2,200 students that we’re serving.

Yamasaki:  Our goal was to have 1,000 unduplicated kids enrolled in our summer program, both our academic and our camp activities. And at this point when you look at our 40 camps and our academic summer school we’ll have 1,200 to 1,500 kids this summer.

Miller: [Does] unduplicated mean individual kids? So some of them may be doing more than one class or activity?

Yamasaki:  We made a decision that we were going to open these up for free to our kids, given our families and the kind of year they’ve had. We just thought what a great opportunity for our kids to be able to do all kinds of academic and sports enrichment experiences and to be able to come for free. So we said sign up [for] as many as you want and come often and come all summer.

Miller:  Does that include things like a backpacking class, which has a trip, or filmmaking, which has all kinds of equipment people may have had to pay for in the past or horseback riding. All those are free?

Yamasaki:  Dan can speak a little bit about our digital media daydreamers camp. We’re excited that out of the 45 camps we’re offering, 75 percent are sponsored with our own staff. They’ve come forward and given creative ideas to do things as they said, ‘that they haven’t been able to do during the year’ because of the  limitations within the curriculum and the academic subject area they’re teaching. This really gave them an opportunity to do things they love to do and share that with those kids. The beginning wilderness backpacking is an example. We have a woman, who is a science teacher at a middle school, who wanted to teach sixth graders how to wilderness backpack. So they spent the beginning of the week learning those skills and then they spent 3 nights backpacking in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Miller:  These are the kinds of classes which might have cost families hundreds of dollars in the past if they wanted to sign their kids up for them.

Stearns:  Yes. So, for example, one of the camps that we’ve been running for 17 years privately is called Daydreamer film camp. Normally that camp would cost about $250 a person. But it’s free now. So those kids are learning everything about filming, acting in front of the camera, behind the camera, all those things are all offered free. And, of course, our numbers have skyrocketed because it is free. So we doubled our capacity. And that’s kind of the same thing with most of the camps. All of the camps are much larger than we originally budgeted for or even thought we would get. So Gayle is being modest about the numbers. We wanted 1,000. Then most people are signing up for multiple camps so I think we’re at 2,200. With multiple camps, they’re doing a variety of things.

So when I walk down the hallway today at KU I walk next to a cheer camp where we have kindergarten to third grade. I go into my classroom and they’re learning graphic design.  Right next door they’re learning digital photography and making a horror movie tomorrow. And those are middle school kids. Then I go downstairs and we have 80 kids catching up on their math from all this COVID time and getting the credit recovery. Then I go outside and we have kids down there taking a soccer camp learning skills with all brand new balls and all of their equipment. And then I go inside and we’re doing wrestling and then I go next door and they’re doing volleyball camp.

So that’s just me walking around the facility, not counting what we’re doing up at Steins Park or Ponderosa or, later in August, a group going up the Rogue River and learning how to fly drones in nature. We’re going to the Oregon caves. So it is just crazy.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during all this, as a teacher during COVID, we’ve had to make lots of changes really quickly.

So things that would take a year that you would plan out. We had weeks. And the same thing happened with us [when we had this potential infusion of state education money]. We took on the challenge. Gayle and I were convinced that it would have been easy not to implement these programs because we didn’t have a lot of time. We got most of this material in April and we decided it’s better to do it and not have it perfect and make all these opportunities for kids, knowing that it takes longer to get people on board. It takes longer to get supplies [because] all across the U. S. suppliers are behind.  We’re having delays but we don’t care. All of us in the school district put the program forward and we made it happen no matter the obstacles.

Miller:  Were you going to forgo this federal money if you didn’t use it this summer? Was this sort of use it or lose it money?

Yamasaki:  Absolutely. These funds came from the Oregon Department of Education and were offered to every school district in the State. So school districts had an opportunity to look at K- 8 enrichment programs, which was one allotment of funds. Then there was money for high schools from 9 - 12.  That focus was on credit recovery or how we get kids on track to graduate, given the situation we’ve had last year with COVID.

And then there was also a childcare fund for wrap-around services for grades K - 8. We really felt, given the situation with our kids in our community, that it was almost unconscionable for us not to take advantage and do what we could to provide opportunities for our kids.

Miller:  There are more serious academic activities going on here as well, specifically intended to bring kids up to grade level after a really disruptive year and a half. Do more kids need that help right now than in previous years?

Stearns: Yes, it’s pretty serious. We just finished our english recovery. We gave an opportunity and well over 90% of those students passed the 3-week course [that included] field trips. It was part of an English credit recovery. So we’ve got 37 kids who passed.  That’s 37 kids on track to graduate now in English. We’ve got some 80 students now in Math. This is just for our high school. In our program, we also have our Climate Learning Center that is [offering] online credit recovery.

Miller:  Some kids are actually getting paid to take these classes right now. How is that working out?

Yamasaki:  In the past we’ve always done some form of credit recovery for our kids. But part of the feedback we got from them is [that] most of them need to work over the summer. It’s very difficult to commit 3-6 weeks to recover credit, [regardless of] how important that is for you to be on track to graduate[when] working in the summer helps your and your families. So the opportunity, with these funds, was to be very creative in how we might entice kids to attend  credit recovery summer school.

We decided that this would be their summer job and [an incentive for] kids to recover their credit [at the same time they would] have the kinds of funds they would make this summer. Math and English are core curriculum requirements.  So if kids recover their Math and English credit, we will give them $500 per credit. With any other credit they recover, we will compensate $200 for that credit. So it doesn’t matter to us whether you come and you do it face to face or you do it online. What’s important to us is our commitment to students that they will graduate with their class.

Miller:  Thank you for letting us be in your school Gayle Yamasaki and Dan Stearns, co-coordinators of the Klamath Falls City Schools Summer programs.

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Sage Van Wing