MUSCATINE, Iowa–With abundant hands-on opportunities and many chances for students to work with organizations from across the community, Muscatine Community School District’s Summer Program for Arts, Recreation, and Knowledge (or S. P. A. R. K. for short) provides a way for students to extend their learning into the summer in an enjoyable way. Building on the success of previous summer programs, such as College 4 Kids and Muskie Summer STEA2M Camp, S.P. A. R. K. strives to help students start the 2021-2022 school year at grade level, despite the interruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to have a good time in the process.
“From the outset, we knew we wanted to provide some academic support for them in the summer,” said Franklin Principal Corry Spies, one of S. P. A. R. K.’s organizers.
“Our hope is that our kids will be grade level proficient,” added Jefferson Principal Kandy Steel, who also helped create and run S. P. A. R. K.
A full day program running through July 30, students in kindergarten through sixth grade start out each morning studying reading and math. While these lessons cover the same skills and concepts students would work on in a typical class for their age, teachers have made a point of making them extra interesting and engaging to help kids take pleasure in their summer learning. “It’s really to provide that love of learning for all our students in Muscatine,” Steel highlighted. “It really aligns to what we believe is good for the kids.”
After eating lunch, courtesy of the free summer meal program, students then get to spend the afternoon doing hands-on learning. Over the course of the five week program, students get to have several different experiences tailored to peak their interest and help them extend the learning they did in the classroom. From kindergartners building bridges out of different materials and getting to go on a fieldtrip to Muscatine’s own Norbert F. Beckey Bridge, to first and second graders discovering dinosaurs, to third and fourth graders investigating a mock crime scene, and fifth and sixth graders baking and selling their goods to support the Muscatine Center for Social Action Food Pantry, students get to participate in fun experiences that will give them skills and knowledge they will carry with them well into the future.
Thanks to the assistance of Aligned Impact Muscatine, which helped coordinate the afternoon sessions, S. P. A. R. K. also gives community partners such as Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine Community College, Muscatine County Conservation, Muscatine Community Y, Musser Public Library, and volunteers from Muscatine High School a time to work with students more closely than they might get to during the school year. “What I love best is seeing what the kids come up with and how they think, and my second favorite thing is working with the classroom teachers,” shared Musser Public Library Youth Services Manager Betty Collins.