Monrovia Summer School Earns an A, One Starfish at a Time
By Susan Motander
Monrovia does not have a traditional summer school for its elementary and middle school students. Instead it has two special programs, each designed to assist those students who need a bit of extra help.
Elementary students who were reading well below grade level were invited to attend Camp Read-A-Lot, this year held at Plymouth Elementary School. The summer program is not a long one. In the four weeks the students attend summer school, there are only sixteen days of reading instruction, and these are only three-hour days of reading help. The final hour of summer school is spent in physical activity.
Despite these restrictions, in those short days, the students in the program improved their reading level an average of six months. A large part of the success of the program is the individualized attention the students receive. There are lots of tutors through both the Pro-Active Tutoring (PAT) Program and community volunteers who read one-on-one with the struggling students. The PAT program is funded through a joint effort of the school district, local community college, and Monrovia Reads.
As impressive as the results or Camp Read-A-Lot are, they almost pale in comparison with those of the math-centered program, Camp Infinity, designed for Middle School students. Dr. Sue Kaiser, MUSD Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Service, explained recently that the school district realized that math scores suddenly dropped off for many students when they entered middle school.
To deal with this situation, the school district designed Camp Infinity, where for four weeks the students receive three hours of intense instruction in the language of mathematics, a strong reiteration of the basics (i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and problem solving. With this focused study, the average students improved math skills by two years. A two-year improvement in just sixteen days of study is extraordinary.
When asked why such a program was not replicated district wide, but rather only for the struggling students, Kaiser explained that it was with amazing individually focused attention, that such results were possible. Only during the summer program is such attention possible.
To illustrate her point, Kaiser related a favorite story of retire Monrovia Police Chief Joe Santoro. The former chief told this story to most students groups he addressed: “A man walking along the seashore came across a little girl who was searching the shoreline for starfish. When she across one above the surf line, she would throw it back as far as she could into the ocean. The man pointed out that she would never save every starfish, so what did it matter. The child looked up at the man, and said, ‘It may not matter to all the starfish, but it will to that one.’”