Students in Mr. Iriarte’s summer school classroom play songs they just learned on iPads and connected devices. Photo courtesy of Hollister School District

On a recent July afternoon, Calaveras School buzzed with activity and enthusiasm.

In one classroom, students made and played songs on iPads under Andrew Iriarte’s instruction. The instructor explained how they can use GarageBand to play piano, drums and guitar to record songs—and he mentioned the students were preparing for an upcoming show a week before the final day of camp. 

“They are literally writing music,” Iriarte said. “When I started, they didn’t know anything.” 

In another class, students created landscapes for Watercolor Day. Other rooms were designed for learning robotics using Legos and lively dance instruction, while a group participated in outdoor games on a field. 

Assembled by ages and overseen by instructors, participants moved from activity to activity in 30-minute blocks—an intentional structure to keep them interested and active. 

This was a typical setting for this inaugural year of the Day Camp program lasting from June 14-July 14. With grant funding, the Hollister School District launched the Day Camp model in the afternoons to align with traditional Summer School in the mornings. 

More than 700 students in the district took part in Summer School at four sites—Calaveras, R.O. Hardin, Sunnyslope and Rancho San Justo schools—from 8:30am-12:30pm Monday to Friday. Almost 80% of those participants then took part in the Day Camp portion until 5:30pm at the three elementary schools, with Rancho San Justo Middle School students bussed to those sites, said Colleen Myers, Ed.D., director of educational services for the Hollister School District. 

Funding for the morning sessions came from Local Control and Accountability Program (LCAP) monies, while the district received an Extending Learning Opportunities (ELO) grant from the state—with a focus on serving disadvantaged families—to fund the afternoon camp sessions.

Summer School included a somewhat typical academic curriculum with such subjects as math, science, English language arts, physical education and possibly social studies. Still, educators worked to deviate from the regular school year approach. 

As an example, all of the schools followed a “One School, One Book” theme, Myers mentioned. Each student received a copy of the same book, and participated in activities based around subject matters in those stories. 

Summer School included 53 staff members—among them 39 teachers—overseeing 715 students. The Day Camp portion relied heavily on valued partnerships with outside organizations and an array of much-appreciated community members pitching in. There were 39 staff members—including 31 activity leaders—overseeing 562 students in Day Camp. 

Like the aspiring musicians, another group across the way also prepared for an upcoming show under dance instructor Alondra Pena’s guidance. 

For each of her six rotations through the afternoon, Pena has students do three styles of routines: fitness, hip hop and social dances that can range from swing to merengue. It was her first time teaching in a school environment like this one. 

“I think it’s great to see how much they’ve grown from the beginning,” she said. 

Makayla Magdaleno with the San Benito Arts Council—one of the district’s contracted partners—was among activity leaders. She noted how she was “kind of hopping around all the schools” in the mornings and then spent afternoons at Calaveras. On this Watercolor Day at Calaveras, she let the students mostly explore using paint with the goal of creating landscapes the following afternoon on larger sheets of paper. 

“It’s really cool to see what they can create,” she said. 

In other rooms, Hollister High School students oversaw robotics instruction. Math students could go on their computers and do Prodigy or play dice games. Students, meanwhile, were offered breaks to eat snacks provided by the district during their busy afternoon. 

Myers, meanwhile, lauded an “incredibly hardworking staff” and said the first year of Day Camp has been a success, largely told by smiles on students’ faces. 

“Our goal is to have our kids delighted and exhausted,” Myers said. 

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