A unique partnership benefits students at Chester Valley Elementary

Students at Chester Valley Elementary get a full day of learning during the summer program.
Students at Chester Valley Elementary get a full day of learning during the summer program.(ktuu)
Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 6:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At Chester Valley Elementary School, students in the Anchorage School District’s Summer Learning Program can stay beyond the three-hour school day, thanks to a partnership with summer camp organization Camp Fire Alaska.

The full day program incorporates “learning pods” where ASD teachers school students in reading and math while Camp Fire workers concentrate on STEM skills and other learning opportunities.

Chester Valley Principal Meghan McCarthy-Grant said the partnership started in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, when she worried that some of her families didn’t have the resources to help their children learn at home.

“So the idea was, maybe we could make a space here in the school where kids who were really struggling with all those barriers and their families were working really hard to just maintain the basics of safety and health,” McCarthy-Grant said. “That we could give them a safe place to come to receive their education.”

The school turned to Camp Fire, which agreed to start a learning pod program in the building. That gave struggling students a place to be throughout the day where they could also get the help they needed.

“Our staff very quickly had to be IT and tech support to kids in the classrooms,” said Camp Fire Alaska Chief Program Officer, Melanie Hooper. “Helping them with mathematics, language arts — things that they weren’t historically doing in our programs.”

Since then Camp Fire staff have stayed on at Chester Valley, helping in the classroom as students returned to in-person learning and now in the summer learning program. Hooper said the plan is to have some Camp Fire staff stay in the classroom when students return in the fall. That, she said, will benefit students.

“You know the child,” she said. “You know where they need extra support. You know the family. So that relationship is no longer just a school day or just a before or after school program. It’s actually more adults serving the entire family throughout the day.”

McCarthy-Grant said Camp Fire’s involvement has made a difference for struggling students. She hopes their partnership can become a model for other schools.

“As budgets shrink and needs continue to grow, the idea that all the people who have the same mission can come together and help each other do those things … I think it’s powerful,” she said.

Camp Fire is planning two additional learning pod programs at North Star Elementary and Muldoon Elementary in the fall. Tuition has been waived for students in those programs. Hooper said a combination of private funding, federal programs and federal CARES Act dollars is helping to make that possible.

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