Summer School Isn’t Torture

EMPOWEREDPowerSchool After School program administrator Mandy Reedy has weathered funding challenges on the way to seeing her program emerge from a pilot effort to become a model for other school districts. 

Nine years after it was picked as one of three California school districts for a pilot program funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Gilroy’s summer learning program has become a model of success.

And that’s what everyone hoped for, according to Mandy Reedy, program administrator for the Gilroy Unified School District’s Power School After School Programs.

I am beyond proud that the hard work our collaborative has invested over the past nine years has put Gilroy on the map as a model for expanded learning opportunities across the state of California,” Reedy said.

“Cal-SOAP [California Student Opportunity and Access Program], Gilroy Unified School District. YMCA, and Youth Alliance have shown that when multiple agencies share a common vision they can have a collective impact on their community,” she added.

The program and others statewide are part of an effort by educators to shift the traditional emphasis of summer school classes from remedial help for struggling students who dread spending vacation time in school, to substantial learning programs designed to close achievement gaps and convey the idea to students that college is an exciting part of their future.

To spread the word, Gilroy’s Super Power Summer Camp hosted a Superintendents Summitfor educators in Gilroy on June 24 to share its vision and successes with other school superintendents.

Interest has been so great that another meeting might be scheduled, Reedy said.

The June 24 summit was supported by Summer Matters, which works to expand access to quality summer learning opportunities, and Region 5 After School Partnerships involving Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Benito county offices of education.

Hosted by GUSD and Gilroy schools superintendent Debbie Flores, the conference highlighted student work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), visual and performing arts (VAPA), and healthy living—with a new mindfulness component that introduces meditation into each field of study so that students can focus and reduce conflict, according to Summer Matters.

But the bottom line for the kids might just be that it isn’t your grandmother’s summer school anymore.

It’s more like a summer camp for college-bound students as young as first-graders, according to Reedy.

And while the anecdotal information and some data suggest kids really like the program and are eager to attend, work remains to be done in tracking how students who enroll in the program do in later years, particularly in relation to college, according to Reedy.

“From data I have analyzed, the ones who are with us year-round do the best,” she said.

The program goals are summed up in its vision and mission statement.

The vision is: “All students will become lifelong learners.”

Its mission statement reads, “Power School and SuperPower Summer Camp support students through expanded learning opportunities that build confidence, self-sufficiency, academic success, and social responsibility.”

In Gilroy, there are about 665 summer learners, mostly in grades 2 through 8 but with a smattering of incoming first- and ninth-graders, too.

With 33 staffers from the YMCA, Cal-Soap and Youth Alliance, and a grant-funded budget of about $260,000 split over two summers, the June through July program offers fun, academics and self-reflection tools in a daily, six-hour package at three locations—all designed to engage kids in learning and spark and sustain interest in attending college, according to Reedy.

The funding has come over the years from federal, state and private foundation sources.

The program targets kids who are struggling academically, or from low-income families or English language learners, but anyone can attend, said Reedy. Her two elementary school-age children are in the program.

“Kids with us are there because they want to be; they have fun,” she said.

The day begins with a free breakfast followed by rallies, all centered around a theme of “College, Career and Community,” Reedy said.

Academics are based on the college-bound Cal-Soap curriculum and include fields of study such as geography, music and art, STEM subjects and a healthy living section that teaches restorative breathing techniques, “essentially meditation,” Reedy said. “How to breath and get in touch with themselves to respond rather than react [learning to] take a breath and calm down.”

For Bryan Tadeo, 12, a soon-to-be seventh-grader in Gladys Elizondo’s class at South Valley Middle School, it’s a welcome part of the summer learning experience.

“It helps me get ready for school,” he said of the homeroom breathing exercises each morning.

As part of the program, classes pick colleges to identify with and create posters and other reminders of their new-found affiliations. They routinely show allegiance by chanting the school’s name during daily fun rallies that include dancing. They also create mockups of dorms and have started referring to the cafeteria by the more college-sounding name, dining hall—all designed to establish college as their future path by getting them used to some of its traditions.

In the South Valley Middle School program, colleges of choice include UC-Berkeley, San Jose State and CSU-Monterey Bay.

Reedy’s son is headed to second grade. His summer program class has aligned itself with Louisiana State University. Why? Well, it was picked because LSU calls itself the Tigers, while Stanford’s symbol is only a tree, Reedy said of her son’s explanation of the choice.

The other two summer learning program venues in Gilroy are at Antonio Del Buono and El Roble elementary schools.

While Reedy’s program has come a long way and is looked to as model, she said that getting to this point has not always been easy in terms of funding.

“We steadily grew for a few years as part of Summer Matters and adding the big 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, but after we lost the funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation we lost about 100 spaces.”

She said program funding requires GUSD serves 620 students and that, “We stretch it out as much as we can and have staff for 660 students.”

An additional $25,000 grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation grant allowed us to provide additional professional development, keep the teacher coach position, and start Family Science Nights,” she said.

In addition to being fully grant-funded, the program also is free of charge to all participating families, she said.

More information on the Gilroy program and summer learning is at these links:;; and   

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