Even though they rather would be swimming at the pool, elementary and middle school students in Westerville summer school made a lot of academic growth, with the help of dedicated teachers.

Even though they rather would be swimming at the pool, elementary and middle school students in Westerville summer school made a lot of academic growth, with the help of dedicated teachers.

Scott Ebbrecht, the school district's director of alternative education and assessment, said students in grades K-8 are invited to summer school if they are below benchmark levels in math or reading.

"Summer school provides opportunities to hone in on specific skills and for students to choose to want to learn," he said. "In a smaller setting, we can help empower them with academic success by letting them see their growth through skill development. We give them hope that they will be successful in school."

Summer school took place June 15-July 17, with no school the week of June 29-July 3. For K-3 students, classes were at Fouse Elementary from 8:30 a.m. to noon and for grades 4-8 it was at Genoa Middle School from 8:30 to 10:15 a.m. and/or 10:15 a.m. to noon.

For the summer of 2015, more than 350 kindergarten through third-graders participated as did 271 students in grades 4-8.

This is the first year that kindergarten summer school was offered and 72 students attended.

Teachers like Melissa Krempasky, principal for kindergarten through third grade summer school, observed students who participate in summer school don't face as much summer regression.

"The students who come to summer school versus the ones that are invited but don't come, make a lot of progress," she said.

Ashlee Wagner, summer school principal for grades 4-8, said she could tell that the older students didn't necessarily want to spend their summer in a classroom.

"But they seem to like that it's not as monotonous as the school year sometimes can be. Here, it's only four concentrated hours of learning. They are not judged on their past and we try to personally engage the students."

She told a story of one eighth-grader who missed his bus and walked more than 1.5 miles to still make it to summer school.

"It's like working out at the gym. You don't want to go to the gym, but once you're there, you don't mind it and feel accomplished at the end of the day," she said.

Using computerized standardized tests at the beginning and end of the program, Greg Mintenieks, a fifth-grade teacher, said he is able to show students just how far they've come in a short time.

"Sometimes, over half a year of progress is made. And I think that kind of success just breeds more success because they get excited about seeing how much they've learned," he said.

Technology integration specialist Angie Heath said data from the tests guide the teaching.

She told of one sixth grader who started out with just a 38 percent proficiency in math and by the end of summer, scored 80 percent proficient.

"As teachers, we're so proud of them. We see that this additional time in the classroom works plus it's nice to build those relationships with the students and colleagues. We can share teaching strategies that we can take back to our own building in the fall," said Mintenieks.

Lexi Alza, first grade intervention specialist, said relationship building in a larger classroom can be difficult.

Classroom sizes are kept at less than 16 students so that teachers can make more personal connections.

"By identifying their target areas, we can use evidence-based intervention and monitor their growth" said Alza. "It also helps students feel valued and safe when we can have smaller class sizes and more adults in the classroom."

In addition to Westerville teachers, there also is support in the classroom by student-teachers from Otterbein, Americorps and Muskingum.

Deb Fulmer, first grade teacher, said the students take home a "daily communication log" to their parents that shows information about student's conduct, organizational skills, academics and learning targets for the week.

Parents can also jot down their own questions to the teacher using the folder.

"It shows parents what we're working on in the classroom so that way when they ask their student, 'What did you learn at school today?' and the student says 'Nothing' they can get a more in-depth answer."

All registered K-8 summer school students had access to transportation, breakfast and lunch.