Students explore experimental learning this summer

ADDISON COUNTY — A group of students from Bristol Elementary School rush out of the National Bank of Middlebury in Bristol, their arms laden with cash that had been in a safe only minutes before. Onlookers watch, but no one lifts a finger.
Instead, the onlookers smile, bemused, because the students’ arms are laden with Monopoly cash.
The cameras are rolling and the boom mic is lowered above the students, recording their dialogue. They are staging a bank break-in for a mock news coverage they are filming as part of the annual Summer Expanded Learning Program.
The Addison Northeast Supervisory Union’s Summer ELP is an opportunity for students to continue honing their critical thinking skills over the summer. Learning doesn’t have to stop when the academic year does, and this summer, elementary school students in Bristol, Starksboro, Monkton, Lincoln and New Haven engage in literature, math and science and health and wellness classes, as well as workshops in chemistry, film and theater workshops led by specialists who rotate through the schools throughout the summer.
The work of the summer will be on display to the public in a film festival at Holley Hall this Friday evening.
“(The program) is very enrichment based and focuses on hands-on experimental learning. It’s very different from the school year, and the kids are doing very cool things,” said Mandy Chesley-Park, ELP director. “It’s almost like the Hogwarts of summer learning,” she added with a laugh.
AT MONKTON CENTRAL School students make their own kale chips from kale they have harvested from the garden themselves as part of the ELP program’s health and wellness classes. Courtesy Photo
At Bristol Elementary School, 44 students between first and sixth grade are registered for the entire length of the program. Other students register for a week at a time, according to Bristol program director Amber Thomas.
“Our theme this year is a world of colors,” Thomas said. “All through the summer, the kids play games involving colors, like Simon and color Sudoku, and the classes explore colors, such as bubble-making and ultraviolet lights in the math and science classes.”
The program takes hands-on learning even further with specialists who work with students in theater, chemistry experimentation and filmmaking.
Shawn Kimball, the filmmaking specialist at the program, has worked with the students this summer to help them produce news segments, short movies and documentary films.
He got in touch with Bristol businesses, asking if any were willing to play along and set up some sort of newsworthy event for the students to cover. At the National Bank of Middlebury, the students worked with the teller to plant Monopoly money behind the counter.
The students in charge of filming the heist did so from above, imitating the angle of security cameras in the building.
“The students also interviewed the teller to do an eyewitness account,” Chesley-Park said. “It’s been great that community members are so excited to be a part in what the kids are doing, and the kids had a lot of fun. It was a riot, and they had a blast.”
This summer Kimball rotated through three ELP locations — Bristol Elementary, Monkton Central and Robinson Elementary in Starksboro — teaching a weeklong workshop at each. In this relatively short amount of time, students learn to use recording equipment, set up a green screen, edit their videos and write their own scripts. The Monkton Central group even wrote a musical score for their film.
“We let the students lead us so we can follow their fancy and help them explore what they’re interested in instead of setting up blocks of curriculum,” Chesley-Park explained.
Chesley-Park hopes that the student-driven nature of the Summer ELP will excite the students and motivate them to actively engage their brains. Students in the program pay what they can and transportation is provided, so there are no roadblocks for attendance, according to Chesley-Park.
The learning aims to prevent the “summer slide,” where students do not critically engage their minds during summer months and are set back when classes resume in the fall.
Although Chesley-Park focuses on blending learning with fun, she noted that the academic nature of the program is crucial for the children enrolled. This is especially so as many of the students come from families where parents work throughout the day, with no one left at home to facilitate the child’s learning outside of school.
“Beyond anything we’re doing, we’re looking to close the equity gap and providing exciting opportunities for all our students with qualified licensed educators,” she said. “At the base of all the fun, we want to help students feel like they are part of a community, have a positive experience and light their fire in a different educational way.”
The Summer Expanded Learning Program will culminate in a Film Festival on Friday, Aug.  5. The collaboration between the ELP and the Bristol Recreation Film Camp will be held at Holley Hall in Bristol, 7-9 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

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