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Tulsa schools launch year two of camp-style summer school

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Although the yarn, glue and paper plates in arts and crafts are a close second, Elicia Ellington’s favorite part of summer school is something a little more physical.

It’s gym class.

“I get to run around and play with my friends,” she said with a shy grin.

An incoming fourth-grade student at McKinley Elementary School, Elicia is among the more than 8,000 Tulsa Public Schools students — almost one-fourth of the district’s total 2021-22 enrollment — who are participating in “Ready. Set. Summer!” camp-style programming across 21 campuses this month.

Other districts are holding summer schools, too. Sand Springs Public Schools had 300 summer school students in June, and 200 are enrolled for the district’s July session. Just at the elementary school level, Union had almost 800 participate in its summer school in June.

The American Rescue Plan Act requires school districts to put at least 20% of their federal COVID-19 recovery funds toward addressing the impact of lost instructional time due to the pandemic through any number of routes, including expanded summer programming.

As a result, Tulsa Public Schools spent $11 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds on summer programming in 2021 and expects to spend up to another $9 million this year to cover summer expenses, including supplies and stipends for teachers and support staff.

At Tulsa’s summer school, along with sessions on math, science and language arts, students get to participate in such enrichment activities as clubs, field trips and visits by on-campus guests from places like First Tee and ahha, the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa.

Mixed in with shrieks of delight from the McKinley gym up and down the halls Wednesday afternoon were thuds from students learning how to dance and song snippets as others began preparation efforts for an all-school talent show later this month.

“This is a chance for these students to mix and mingle and get into things that they may never get a chance to get to do,” said McKinley Elementary School Assistant Principal Bryshana Gillaspie, the summer administrator.

Along with increasing participation from 2021, TPS schools were grouped together based on students’ ages, geographic proximity and feeder patterns.

This year, for example, McKinley is also hosting students from Unity Learning Academy and Hamilton Elementary School. Among those three schools, 350 students are attending McKinley this month.

McKinley sixth-grade teacher Janet McCarty Smith is among the teachers working this summer. Along with the opportunity to make sure those rising seventh graders are ready academically for middle school, she said “Ready. Set. Summer!” has also provided a chance to help repair and rebuild social skills that may have been stunted by pandemic-induced isolation.

“It’s huge,” McCarty Smith said. “A lot of (the children) have missed their friends. Even if they live in the same neighborhood, if their friend’s family was sick, they couldn’t go over and see them. For a lot of our students, that was a big impact for them.”

Events for the week of July 6-10, 2022 compiled by Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel and James Watts

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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