Summer learning: Cullman City Schools summer camp bridges gap

Some local students are spending this summer getting a leg up on the next school year, attending a summer camp at Cullman City Schools featuring hands-on learning stations. (Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala.It might be summer vacation, but the learning never really stops at Cullman City Schools.

The district’s summer learning camp ran from June 3-20, with more than 120 students attending at the West Elementary School campus, making it the largest summer camp Cullman City Schools has hosted to date.

“This year’s Summer Camp has provided students with an opportunity to close learning gaps in reading and math, participate daily in STEM activities and form new friendships,” West Elementary Math Coach Sashari Caretti said. “It’s been a positive experience not only for the students but for the teachers as well.”

The program is part of a state initiative via the Alabama Literacy Act, offering extra opportunities for math and reading instruction for students during the summer season.

Students participated in several different experiences as part of the summer camp, with groups like the North Alabama Agriplex and Cullman Power Board providing learning programs and events throughout the summer.

“We have tried to create an environment that engages students’ interest while still providing explicit lessons focused on students’ deficiency areas. Bugs in the Garden, presented by the Agriplex, was a huge success our first week of camp. Students went on bug hunts, learned about the importance of pollination and discovered that some bugs are beneficial to your gardens while others can be detrimental,” Cullman City Schools Elementary Curriculum and Federal Programs Coordinator Emily Hines said. “The Cullman Power Board presented on electrical safety and were able to answer many questions asked by the students. The students enjoyed the Powertown table that the linemen used because it provided them with a visual learning experience.”

A total of 21 teachers, two instructional assistants, two nurses, two Child Nutrition Program (CNP) employees and CNP Director Leslie Dawson all played a huge role in making this camp so successful this year. Free breakfast and lunch were also provided for all students attending the camp this summer. 

“This year we have had a great turnout at summer camp. It’s amazing to see the growth in reading and math through the intensive instruction we have been able to provide over the course of three weeks,” Second-Grade Teacher Mary Beth Cleveland noted.

Teachers engaged students in reading, writing, math and STEM lessons throughout the camp. For example, after reading “Cinderella” in Melony Edwards’ first-grade class, her students completed a STEM challenge to build a carriage out of Legos that could transport a Lego person from one place to another. Students tested their carriages on a concrete ramp outside and discovered the carriage that had more weight went faster down the ramp. Students then discussed how they could modify their design to make it quicker and sturdier. 

“We have enjoyed the activities planned through the Agriplex and the Power Board as well. We love how our community comes together to provide fun and engaging activities for our students,” fellow Second-Grade Teacher Tayler Davis added.

Third-Grade Teacher Rachel Carden noted summer reading and math camps are an amazing and enriching experience for students, as well as teachers.

“Students are eager to learn more and do better,” she said. “They come in with good attitudes and are excited to see when they reach a goal.”

Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said the program’s success is a testament to the hard work of the educators and employees who make up Cullman City Schools.

“We have amazing teachers and leaders in Cullman who are doing a great job making summer learning fun,” he said. “On behalf of our Board of Education, I appreciate them spending their June with us and making a tremendous impact on our students who are attending our summer programs.”

Students have also raved about the camp, noting it’s been one of their favorite summer activities and they’ve learned things that will help prepare them for the upcoming school year this fall.

“I have enjoyed the book we have been reading in Mrs. White’s room called ‘Holes,’” fifth grader Angie Benfield said. “She leaves us with cliffhangers and I like that we have to try and figure out what is going to happen next. It makes me want to keep reading.”

First grader John Henry Stiff added, “My favorite part was when I saw the electricity connect from the stick to the power generator. It was interesting how we saw what looked like a real lightning bolt. I learned a lesson, a big one, to never touch power lines.”