2013-04-11 / Front Page

Bootcamp Whipping Young Minds Into Shape

Forbes Road hosts county’s only PSSA bootcamp
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Putting his head together with his teammates, fourth-grader Riley Black blurted out, “science fiction” in response to Jeopardy questions that delved into author’s purpose, fact or opinion, genres, poetry and simile and metaphors.

According to the 10-year-old’s teachers at Forbes Road Elementary, the young scholar has been on a “streak for the last week” during preparations for the much-anticipated Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing. Black was among nearly 50 students to participate in the school’s first-ever PSSA bootcamp designed to whip minds into shape with educational games, fun and learning based on reading and math concepts.

Last Thursday’s hour-long session marked the finale of the fiveweek camp made available twice weekly to students enrolled in grades three through six.

Elementary Principal Paul Swope said the camp was open to every student regardless of their past PSSA scores and achievements. Although, staff and administrators’ hopes were high the event would be attractive to students who were ranked below proficient.

“We wanted to make it fun while also addressing their needs,” stated Swope, who added the children would be rewarded for the efforts the following day with a walking-taco lunch and ice cream sundaes.

Swope said the idea behind Forbes Road’s PSSA bootcamp originated from information shared at conferences as well as through a similar setup at Claysburg Kimmel Elementary outlined by the building’s former principal, Forbes Road Superintendent Mark Loucks. With nothing else offered like it in the area, the PSSA bootcamp has prompted a lot of questions from other schools on how they can start their own programs.

Never having taken a PSSA test before, 9-year-old Brooke Martz said she’s a little worried and nervous about what to expect but hopeful that bootcamp will boost her scores. Cradling a bag of goldfish crackers in the crook of her arm, Martz said her favorite part of the experience has been playing games like Math Battleship.

“It’s just like the real game Battleship only you have to answer questions,” Martz explained while trying to concentrate on Plinko, a nonfiction comprehension game.

Fellow third-grade student Kasey Brown said she has enjoyed playing the educational games such as Jeopardy just as much as she loves picking out a snack to re-energize her after a long day of school. Pointing across the room at a folder, Brown said the packet work awaiting completion isn’t nearly as fun as the games.

Brown and Martz are among the majority of students who boasted “steady attendance” throughout the bootcamp paid for with grant money.

Swope noted each bootcamp began with a motivational group session where students dance and sing a PSSA theme song written to the tune of “YMCA.” After selecting a snack, students break down into smaller groups for approximately 50 minutes of additional exposure to math and English.

Through games and the use of technology ranging from Ipads and computers to smartboards, Swope said the concepts focused on often revolve around open-ended questions or analysis as well as geometry and algebra. Above all, though, the learning atmosphere remains fun.

Swope was assisted throughout the five-week camp by teachers Mechele Seville, Kayla Cromer, Samantha Downey, Michelle Grace, Sharon Bakner, Amy Gallagher, Shannon Brown, Terri Rader, Anitra Plummer, Nicki Parson and Sarah Duvall.

This Monday marked the beginning of the three-day PSSA testing at Forbes Road Elementary where bootcamp students could put their knowledge and minds to the test.

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