Just as the Laguna Beach public-school summer classes end, the Summer Learning Institute, offered through the city’s community services department, begins. It offers students aged six to 12 another crack at improving their language and math skills before returning to school in the fall.
The district’s free summer school program ends Friday, July 20. The remedial classes were only offered to students staff felt needed additional instruction.
With the start of the Summer Learning Institute on Monday, July 23, parents can pay for their incoming first through sixth graders of all skill levels to receive further instruction. “All are welcome and all win,” said credentialed teacher Joni Sommer, who runs the institute.
She said her classes will equally benefit those students seeking simply to enrich their skills, those in need of remedial assistance and those seeking to build confidence and strengthen their academic base.
Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to noon four days a week, Monday through Thursday, in four, week-long sessions. Each day, students receive an hour’s instruction each in reading, writing and arithmetic. Students can easily attend any or all of the four-week sessions as they are clustered according to their ability within each class, regrouped as their skills evolve, and since lesson topics will differ in each session.
The individualized reading program includes decoding, fluency and comprehension; for writing, authors publish work using the writer’s workshop process, enhancing their voice, figurative language, and structure; and for math, basic facts are mastered, and major math concepts are learned, Sommer explained.
Sommer, a teacher at Newport Coast Elementary since 2003, offered the Summer Learning Institute there beginning in 2010 and decided to expand to Laguna Beach this year. Having worked a year as a fifth grade teacher at El Morro in 2001, she appreciates a district where administrators “push for everything that frames the human mind.”
When the city’s community services department accepted her proposal, she was thrilled. “I’m so excited to be back in the Laguna Beach community because of the values, the culture, the priorities and the people,” she said.
Recreation supervisor Kristen Buhagiar, who selects a range of activities to provide residents with an array of choices, said until Sommer’s proposal surfaced, the roster included plenty of physical activities for kids, but came up short on the learning side. “We weren’t offering anything like that, and we thought it would be a good option to round out our program,” she said.
Buhagiar was impressed by Sommer’s experience.
“I wanted to create the perfect setting for the child to learn,” said Sommer, who incorporates kinesthetic exercises, cognitive games and interactive activities into daily routines. She uses music to helps students stay calm and focused and follows the Kagan approach to teaching, incorporating strategies devised to engage every student. She provides students with daily incentives to reinforce positive work habits and social skills, and at the end of each week she sends kids home with the personal dictionary they’ve compiled, a fluency growth chart and a certificate of completion.
Sommer, who began teaching in 1997, also is a guest lecturer at Pepperdine University and UC Irvine.
Many of the strategies Sommer espouses seem borrowed from the same tool kit used by Laguna Beach teacher Mary Blanton, a third grade El Morro teacher recently named teacher of the year. Blanton just wrapped up teaching a class of incoming fourth graders for the district’s summer school.
Sommer, who received a similar distinction in her own school this year, admitted admiring Blanton’s teaching methods at El Morro. Like Blanton, Sommer embraces many of the evaluation techniques and instruction practices incorporated in Laguna classrooms.
The Summer Learning Institute costs $180 per student per four-day week, and classes are limited to 15 students per session. The sessions are held at the Community & Susi Q Center, 380 Third St. from 9 a.m. to noon July 23 to 26, July 30 to Aug. 2, Aug. 6 to 9, and Aug. 13 to 16.
Sign up at the city’s web site, www.lagunabeachcity.net or in person at the community services department at City Hall, 515 Forest Ave.