Orono Middle School Teachers use Federal Funding for Summer Program Focused on Social Emotional Student Needs

A new summer program was created at Orono Middle School that focuses more on the social emotional needs of our students while integrating academics into fun and engaging opportunities for learning. The program was open free of charge to any student that wished to participate. The program had a profound impact on students and teachers alike modeling, establishing, and strengthening relationships, and setting foundations for the critical learning that awaits as we start a new school year. 

The program began during the summer of 2021. Orono Middle School teachers and staff developed and coordinated a unique summer program at Orono Middle School. That year, COVID funding definitely played a key role in launching the program which included the purchase of materials for a wide variety of activities, as well as the creation of a new school-community garden. The program allowed students to select from a variety of activities offered each day in a heterogeneous group format and each day, students were given a healthy bagged lunch free of charge.

Due to the success of the program and remaining funds, we were fortunate to keep the same program this summer. Though we had minimal funding for supplies, we were able to use supplies from last summer and/or supplies from our classroom. With one year under our belts, this summer proved to be even more successful with nearly 30 participants each week! We know that funding for summer programs is typically allocated to students with identified needs in their IEP, however, this program was developed to have an impact on ALL–and that impact was significant! The program met the social, emotional, mental, and physical needs of the students as well as applying academic skills and helped to support many students to become more confident and prepared for the academic school year.

The Program was flexible allowing students to attend when it best fit their schedule. Many students attended every day; some made it for 2 weeks and, for others, just a few days. Regardless of when they attended, joining was seamless and students were able to be with different peers in activities they chose to explore. Organizers also made the program Intentional with Purposeful Learning Experiences. The activities were organized and well planned to provide a positive learning experience for each student. The daily choices (3-5 per 3 separate sessions) were organized to include a wide array of activities and skill level entry points to make the experience equitable for all students.

Activities offered during the 5-week program included:  fishing, nature walks and hikes, cooperative games, cooking, gardening, 3-D printing, tabletop games, weight lifting, design + make buttons, hike in Bangor City Forest, coding, art projects, engineering challenges, construct + paint bird houses, dissect owl pellet, theater games/activities/performances. pressed flower projects, design + make comics, reading + discussing comics, intramurals, volunteering at The Bangor Humane Society, and design + paint stepping stone for school garden.

Parents were very grateful for the program’s flexibility, structure and daily activity options. Here are some of their comments:

He seems to look forward to going to school in summer, which is not his usual attitude about it! Thank you for your planning and working with these kids, I think this enrichment is excellent.” 

Student” had a really good time.  So good, in fact, that we’re talking about shifting our plans around this summer to try to get her more time there, although we haven’t figured out how possible that is yet.  But regardless, I hope it speaks highly of what an excellent experience you all crafted there this past week!” (She was able to make it back for the last 1.5 weeks). 

The main benefit for my child was to meet some of the teachers and students in the Orono school system. She is transferring from Old Town this fall. I think she enjoyed the art and cooking activities the most. The biggest benefit was to build her confidence going into the upcoming school year.”

“As a result of strengthening her friendships with her peers at the summer program, she gained the self-confidence to walk around town by herself and with her friends.”

“She got to do lots of fun activities  while getting her reading instruction” 

“I can’t say enough good things about this experience for my daughter.  She is excited and confident about attending middle school now.  She found a new activity that she is excited about (weightlifting!) . . .This is probably the most positive and important experience that we’ve ever participated in at RSU 26.  I can’t stress enough how much we loved this program.  She actually skipped a week at a basketball camp that we had already paid for to attend this, and I decided that was okay because she was having such a great experience!”

Middle school students are striving for independence and they want to have a say in what they do. They thrive in a place where they feel they belong and have a purpose. The grade-level lines are blurred in the summer program. They are just kids who have similar interests and/or who are eager to try new things. Groups are almost always multi-grade. The sessions were designed to foster independence with students completing their own weekly schedule and becoming strong self-advocates when they needed help. Students gained confidence by taking risks and trying new activities. They broke away from their typical peers having the confidence and feeling safe to try new things on their own. Students applied problem-solving skills in each session whether it was adjusting a recipe or figuring out an engineering challenge. Students worked with each other to build structures, complete physical tasks, prepare original productions, and collaborative problem-solving. One thing’s for sure, “summer school” at Orono Middle School definitely doesn’t mean what it used to!

Special thanks to Jessica Archer (science teacher) who was the program coordinator and to the teachers leading the various activities including Deb White (social studies teacher) Julie Anthony (art) Chris Gray (science and social studies) Tracy Deschaine (math) and education technicians Rob Saintard and Teena Thibodeau. Thank you for all you do!