By Josh Beavers
There was one word repeated over and over again Monday night during the monthly meeting of the Webster Parish School Board. And that one word was “fantastic.”
Board members heard from students, parents, teachers, and principals about the success of the recently concluded Fantastic Friday and Summer Connection initiatives held across the parish to fill in student educational and social gaps brought on by in-person time lost due to the Covid pandemic.
“My children were so excited for each day,” parent Lisa Nelson told the Board. “I watched them over such a short period of time blossom like they had not all year.”
Nelson, who has boys aged 11 and 14, said her family was in quarantine for over a month due to the pandemic. They made up valuable educational lessons during the week and had a fantastic time on Fridays as they learned art, games, and communicated with peers. All of those things were missing largely during the school year because of the time away from campus.
“Extraordinary,” she repeated. “It was just extraordinary.”
Jakendrick Davis, a student at Brown Upper Elementary in Springhill, joined the meeting digitally and praised the program.
“It gave students a chance to be exposed to ideas and fields we usually do not get to,” the young man said via Google Meet. “It continued our education and broadened our horizons. I hope it will continue to grow as it adds so much to our school curriculum.”
Summer Connection was an intervention program designed to provide targeted instruction based on student data. Traditionally, summer school has focused on LEAP 2025 remediation. This program was geared toward addressing specific skill gaps to prepare students for the next academic year.
“We were able to teach one on one to the students who needed extra support because of all the things we dealt with due to Covid,” teacher Ashanti Cooper told the Board via Google Meet. “They got a boost, and at the end of the program they were more confident about going into the next grade.”
Central Elementary’s Sara Chreene echoed Cooper and said she saw students go from decoding to reading in the short time in the program. Math skills improved as well, and Chreene said she is positive about the intercession periods scheduled throughout the upcoming year as part of the parish’s new calendar.
The rationale for Fantastic Fridays was because not only did young people miss out on educational opportunities in the classroom, but they lost music, art, P.E. and the social connection with classmates and educators.
Wendy Crews, who teaches ELA at Brown Upper Elementary, said she saw children developing social and conversational skills through the playing of simple games like checkers and cards. These are skills that some students lack during the best of times due to the reliance on technology. Couple that fact with a once in a century pandemic that shuttered people away from one another and you have a recipe for serious gaps in social development.
But thanks to the time spent on Fridays, those skills were no longer stagnating, and Crews said conversation and dialog will turn into writing in the classroom.
Shronda Taylor, a paraprofessional at Brown Upper, participated in both programs, teaching math during the week and art on Fridays. She said the children were shown new concepts and ideas. She taught them about abstract art, line art, watercolors, and pastels. They created art, and some students gave what they made as presents to family members.
Talachae Haulcey, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Webster Junior High in Minden, taught dance to third through fifth graders. She said dance breaks barriers and speaks to all people. Being so young, many of the students were unfamiliar with classic and fun dances from Footloose to Cotton Eyed Joe. She taught them line-dancing and incorporated Tik-Tok into lessons.
It is the district’s hope that the Fantastic Friday program is the beginning of students being exposed to more enrichment programs not only during summer months but throughout the year.
Bewanchi Shepherd, principal of Webster Junior High, commended district supervisors Oreata Banks, Dusty Rangel, Melanie Jacobs, and Yolanda Palmer for organizing such a dynamic event. “And it was an event,” she said. “There was something new all the time, and if I could change anything it would be to extend the event into July because our children really and truly enjoyed it.”
Oreata Banks, who serves as Elementary and Pre-K supervisor for the parish, said a survey sent to parents indicated that 100 percent of respondents said they wanted to see the program continue. And when they were asked to rate the program on a scale of five, all respondents rated a four or five.
Superintendent Johnny Rowland said he could not imagine the programs going better for first year events. He praised the students, parents, teachers, administrators, supervisors and everyone involved, and said the district will do all it can to ensure the programs return next year.
Note: Check back in coming updates of The Webster Parish Journal for a story with Dusty Rangel, the district’s supervisor for curriculum and instruction, about the achievement data gathered on students who participated in Summer Connection. Also, check back with us for more about the intercession periods mentioned in this story and how they will help students this fall.