In a classroom down a quiet hallway at Highland Mill Montessori Elementary School, first graders are on their feet, clapping their hands to a flute rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Elsewhere on campus, a group of sixth-grade students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is making robots out of Legos.
“It’s better than normal school,” Gabrielle Smith, a 12-year-old, said. “It’s been a very different experience, considering I was remote for a while. Being able to meet people again, and see people again, I was looking forward to it.”
For the thousands of children enrolled in this summer’s Camp CMS — an extension of the 2020-21 school year to address missed instruction and COVID-19 interruptions — Zoom sessions are no longer the norm. Neither is isolation.
“It was kind of weird coming back to school at first,” Lillian Moen, 10, said. “I didn’t know what to say. It was like, here, have a social life again.”
More than 32,500 students in grades K-12 are registered across six weeks. House Bill 82 required every public school district in North Carolina to provide an in-person learning program this summer. Camp CMS also is a boost to some of the 65,000 students who the district has deemed at-risk, although many haven’t shown up to summer classes.
Highland Mill Montessori, which includes more than 200 students from Highland Mill, Chantilly, Trillium Springs and Park Road Montessori schools, is one of 81 camp sites across the district. More than 5,000 instructional and support staff — 2,550 teachers — offer a full-day of classes in reading, math and science, among other subjects.
Students can take advantage of social-emotional support and small-group instruction. High school students have access to credit recovery.
“They’re so excited to be here and are really enjoying the academic support,” Highland Mill Montessori site administrator Stephanie Sherer said. “But we’re also working hard to make sure they’re enjoying a fun camp-like experience.
“They have math and science, but also have opportunities in music, art, P.E. and a leadership class.”
Lillian chose to enroll in Camp CMS to ensure she would be ready for the fifth grade in the fall.
“I needed something to do in the summer,” she said. “It keeps me from being on a laptop or iPhone all day. Plus, I need help with math.”
CMS tracking down no-shows
While attendance at Camp CMS isn’t mandatory, of the 32,511 students registered for the program, including 20,963 at-risk students, the four-day, average attendance during the first week was 19,028.
More than 8,100 at-risk students didn’t show up to Camp CMS during that first week, according to a report at this week’s school board meeting. District officials identify at-risk students as children who need extra help, are not prepared to perform at the next level or failed a core class at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
For grades 3-12, there were 65,000 at-risk students identified in CMS — students “who we were heavily concerned with,” said Frank Barnes, the district’s chief equity officer, at a recent board meeting.
This past year, more than 148,000 students were enrolled in the district.
School board member Sean Strain and other members pressed school officials at the meeting to provide a clearer way at-risk students are being helped through Camp CMS, how the district will help students get back on track and what is being done about those students who are registered but are not attending. Buses are running throughout the camp.
“Do we have benchmarks,” Strain asked. “Where are we hoping to get them to? ... We want to make a difference for these kids. That’s why we’re here.”
Tangela Williams, of CMS, said district officials and school are making personal phone calls and sending emails to try and reach children who have registered but have not shown up to class. She said teachers also are reaching out and the student services team are making home visits.
Despite the other opportunities and camps children can take advantage of during the summer, both Lillian and Gabrielle said they were happy with the choice they made.
“I enrolled to help me keep my grades up,” Gabrielle said. “Music has been my favorite so far. I really like music and I’d like to try and play an instrument — maybe the trumpet.”