Summer school

Fourth-graders-to-be June Wood and Jocelyn Bartlett work on a project during their LEGO Storytelling class.

As Kegonsa Elementary School principal Erin Conrad took the reins with Stoughton Area School District’s Summer EXCEL program last month, there were a lot of her students she wanted to see in classes, but didn’t.

It’s part of the reason why Conrad is leading an initiative to run an audit of the program, to ensure the district is making equitable choices when designing the program and seeing where outreach can be better.

Summer EXCEL is the district’s free summer school program that usually runs from mid-June just after the school year wraps up, through mid-July. The program’s goal is to increase student’s core subject skills in areas such as reading and math, as well as introduce children to topics not usually covered during a regular school year, the district’s website states.

During a Summer EXCEL wrap-up presentation to the board during its Monday, Aug. 2, meeting, Conrad noted that participation was lower this year than in prior years, with 487 students in attendance, but the percentage of students enrolled in reading and math classes was higher than in previous years.

And while Conrad felt the participation was good when taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic, she sees room for growth in the program.

“I didn’t see a lot of my students (in attendance),” she told the board. “This is a conversation worth having because we want to live our mission in Summer EXCEL, and we want to provide these robust experiences the best way we can.”

District superintendent Tim Onsager said the district has kept the Summer EXCEL program model the same for years, so a “fresh look” is needed to see where improvements can be made. Some of those include determining which students enroll and benefit from Summer EXCEL, which ones don’t and what barriers exist that effectively prohibit participation.

Conrad added the district is also wanting to examine which activities or classes get kids engaged in Summer EXCEL and how they can bring that back into the curriculum during regular school months.

To do that, Conrad said she’s wanting to see enrollment numbers from the past five years of Summer EXCEL offerings broken down into demographic data, as well as surveying families that do and do not send their children to the program during parent-teacher conferences.

Board member Yolibeth Rangel-FitzGibbon expressed that she was happy to see the district wanting to dive deeper into enrollment data and the demographics of students that attend Summer EXCEL, but added that she was frustrated over feeling like promises to improve the program had been made in years prior, but hadn’t been completed.

“We continue to say, ‘We need to see the data, see what’s going on,’ but we haven’t,” she said. “I think it’s time.”

Rangel-FitzGibbon added that she’d like to see the district explore partnerships with organizations in the community to enhance the Summer EXCEL program, as well as have better outreach to families of color to increase participation.

Board member Mia Croyle advocated for the district to look into transportation barriers for students – having morning sessions for a few hours could require a parent to take off mornings from work for two weeks to ensure their children can get to Summer EXCEL and back, which is something Croyle has done in the past, she said.

Croyle also agreed with FitzGibbon that the district should look into community partnerships to help eliminate redundancy for families between summer programs.

“I can remember years when I had to choose between signing my kid up for a rec center course or Summer EXCEL, because they were offered at the same time,” she said. “What a waste, when you’re targeting the same kids in the same community.”

The data collected from the study is expected to be brought to a Board of Education meeting in November 2021.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kwethal@ and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.

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