Ypsilanti Community Schools Extends Learning With Immersive Summer Program

Students and teachers explore summer learning in new ways through Grizzly Learning Camp.

For as long as anyone can remember, summer school has been reserved for students who fall behind academically. Now, Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) is disrupting the traditional summer school model in favor of a whole new summer learning experience called Grizzly Learning Camp, open to all YCS students at no cost, preschool through 12th grade.

“We had a vision for summer school that we think is different and innovative. It’s not remediation, but an extension of what kids learn during the year,” explains Dr. Alena Zachery-Ross, Superintendent at YCS.

At Grizzly Learning Camp, preschoolers discover the symmetry of butterflies, while middle school students learn about the stock market and high school students explore careers through paid internships on-site in auto body shops, dentists, restaurants and other community partners. Families can follow their student’s interests and select from a number of age-appropriate topics during the summer program.

Engaging project-based learning

During the camp’s first year, students were so engaged, some even chose camp over taking a family vacation, Dr. Zachery-Ross says with a laugh. That’s largely because most participating teachers adopted a project-based learning model that gave students choice in how they approached the topics.

“Project-based learning makes lessons engaging and dynamic — and designed to solve a problem with creativity and innovation,” Dr. Zachery-Ross says, adding that project-based learning engages every academic discipline to develop a central problem to solve.

For instance, one student wanted to find an innovative way for people to use less water while brushing their teeth. So, he designed a product that would limit the use of water and built it using a 3D printer. Through Lego Robotics activities, students incorporated STEM, plus reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Exciting for students, project-based learning is a great experience for teachers, too — rejuvenating after disruptions caused by the pandemic, unemployment and social unrest. “We tried to bring back the joy of learning for both students and teachers. We were very intentional about not having assessments at camp,” Dr. Zachery-Ross says.

Immersive field trips to Toledo Zoo, the local library and firehouse, Eastern Michigan University, Frog Island Park, and Domino’s Farms connected YCS students to the richness of the community. And, wherever possible, local businesses came to camp to share entrepreneurial wisdom with students.

“Knowing that we have a rich and diverse group of individuals who live in the Ypsilanti area, we built partnerships with entrepreneurs and other smart, talented folks,” Dr. Zachery-Ross says. By invitation, a local jewelry artist taught kids how to make one-of-a-kind artwork that they can sell.

Something for each child’s interest

Following high first-year participation, organizers plan a second summer ready to accommodate every student in the district who wants to attend. The program includes transportation, breakfast, lunch, and snack — but most of all, it gives kids and teachers yet another reason to love learning.

“No matter where your child is, we have a place for them,” Dr. Zachery-Ross explains. “It’s an opportunity to extend your child’s learning with staff, teachers, parapros, and custodians that they already know. It’s a great way for students to enjoy the summer.”

With a view to embedding more project-based learning into the school year curriculum, YCS teachers have the opportunity to embrace project-based learning with professional instruction through Buck Institute for Education.

“Project-based learning really integrates all the disciplines of reading, writing, math, science and social studies,” says Dr. Zachery-Ross. “It’s holistic and a rich and engaging way of helping students learn the curriculum in a real-world context. When they go into a job, this is what they’ll need to do.”

Learn more about Ypsilanti Community Schools at ycschools.us.

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