Chatham County Schools showcases data-driven, practical summer learning

Siler City, NC – Knees nestled underneath a tiny desk inside Virginia Cross Elementary School, state lawmaker Amber Baker mixed milk with food coloring and swirled it with a cotton swab, creating a kaleidoscope 

The actual students in the classroom got a kick out of it, too.

Baker was among a group of delegates The Hunt Institute assembled for a view of what high-functioning summer academic programming looks like in a school system. The institute is about informing elected officials and policymakers on key issues in education. 

Chatham County Board of Education Chairman Gary L. Leonard was in the delegation, which included a representative from the Wake County Board of Education, other members of the North Carolina General Assembly, as well as leaders at the county and municipal levels. 

By the way, the arts activity that captured Baker’s imagination showed students how liquid detergents interact with other liquids, particularly food coloring and good, old-fashioned milk. It was science. It was art. And, very practically, it gave the kids an understanding of how their clothes get clean in a washing machine. 

Among what makes summer programming unique in this school system is the customization of the curriculum. It’s not canned, the district’s administrators understanding that all students don’t fit neatly into one academic size. Using data specific to Chatham County Schools, administrators tailored academic offerings to meet the needs of students in the school system. The administrators went a step further by turning all of that into lesson plans and handing it to teachers, giving them one less thing to do, empowering educators to engage students with a little extra oomph. 

The school system partnered with community groups to provide the summer programming. It was a win-win situation. Community groups received an economic benefit they might not have gotten from some families who couldn’t afford to send their children to enrichment camps. The programming was free for all Chatham County Schools families. The school system paid for it. 

One of the delegates especially appreciated the culturally diverse materials in the Virginia Cross library. The delegate said that was indicative of a favorable learning environment at the school, which, in fact, is No. 1 in the state for academic growth among schools where at least 90% of the students receive free or reduced-priced meals at school, an indicator of economic hardship that can impact learning.