GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.

There are no school bells sounding off the start of the school day at Fruitvale Elementary because this isn’t your typical semester, this is summer school. “We don’t like to think of it as summer school,” said soon to be 6th grader, Hunter Garner. “We like to think of it as a place where kids come have fun while still learning.”

Nearly 2,000 District 51 students from kindergarten to high school are enrolled at 23 different schools where kids have fun while learning, but it was no easy task. Teacher, Stella Alber knows. “I’ve been teaching for 12 years, and this is my first summer school attempt.”

The summer school plan started in January led by a team of 5 people, and it takes a village. Lead teachers are placed at each school site, some sites had to combine to ensure all students get free meals. the federal universal free meals program expired so the Food Bank of the Rockies stepped it up to help feed students at six sites with staffing shortages to serve the need to educate. Principal, Emily Currey says, “We just need to support them especially, coming off of COVID. There’s still that summer slide, and we just need to offer them as much as we can to keep that summer slide small, and then give them a good start for the fall.” Alber says, “It’s more of a relaxed environment to see what they know and you can teach one on one because it’s smaller class sizes. So, I’m loving it. I’m loving every minute of it.”

Educators say it’s not summer school, it’s an extension of the school year with a focus on math and literacy, but the students say the focus is on fun. Hunter says, “We have sports days and school spirit days quite often actually. We have lots of resources for the students, and we have lots of resources for the teachers as well.”

Even though it’s not a traditional school day during the summer extension, security is in place to protect the most important resource, our children. “We are still vigilant about making sure our doors are closed if people come,” said Principal Currey. “Things are pretty locked down. We do have security officers who come around, and help support us, and we can always call if we need something else.”

Students were invited based on academic need, high schoolers can recover credits, but attendance isn’t required. the only requirement is having fun. Currey says, “They walk away 16 days later, and they’re like, “oh, I had a great time.” and so, we’re hoping that it’ll encourage them to come back next year.”