How a district used Covid funds to send kids to camp – on a college campus


By Carolyn Jones, EdSource

Summer can be quite slow in Lodi if you are a teenager. There’s the pool, there’s pizza night at the teen center, and there’s TV.

But 240 high school students from Lodi Unified escaped boredom this summer when they spent two weeks at the University of the Pacific, living in the dorms, socializing and taking classes in subjects such as music production, filmmaking films, business investment and 3D animation – all paid for with Lodi Unified’s Covid relief funds.

The Central Valley District spent nearly $800,000 of its federal Covid funds to send students to the Pacific Summer High School Institute, a program that introduces high school students to the rigors and rewards of college life. The cost was $3,300 per student, which included accommodation, food, activities, and lessons taught by Pacific faculty.

“This year, the children were upset, but they couldn’t say exactly why. So we wanted to do something special for them,” said Lodi Unified Program Manager Mariya Wharry. “We wanted to invest in something that would make kids say ‘wow’.”

Like districts across the country, Lodi Unified has received millions in federal and state relief funds to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. By law, districts can hire more teachers, tutors, and counselors; purchase technology such as tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots; investing in Covid protection measures like masks, handwashing stations and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades; and pay for programs that address learning loss, such as after-school and summer activities.

Lodi Unified has so far spent about half of its $131 million in Covid relief funds and expects to have spent it all by the August 2024 deadline, according to Robert Sahli, the program’s deputy superintendent. This means the district will have money for at least two years to send students to the Pacific Summer Institute, as well as other summer programs like camping trips and science camps.

For the Pacific Summer Institute, the district chose the participants through a lottery, with all but 30 students being accepted. The only requirement was that they be enrolled in Lodi Unified High School, which encompasses the city of Lodi as well as northern Stockton and surrounding rural areas.

In addition to the 240 who came from Lodi Unified, another 80 students at the institute came from elsewhere, including New York and Canada. A handful were scholarship students from other Northern California school districts, including Stockton Unified, Manteca Unified and Calaveras Unified.

Lodi Unified students participate in a summer program at Pacific University where they learned video production, animation, 3D modeling, graphic design, and other skills.Carolyn Jones/EdSource

For many, the two-week excursion was the longest they’ve been away from home and their first time on a college campus. They were able to meet peers from other parts of the country, learn new skills and get a taste of university life.

Sophia Sanchez, a freshman at Lodi High, opted for the pharmacy program, where she learned about compounding and vaccinations, how to reverse opioid poisoning, clinical trials and other topics. She hopes to one day become a pharmacist.

“I love him so much,” she said. “I learned so much. I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity. If the district hadn’t paid for it, I never could have done it because my parents can’t afford it.

Her friend Adrianna Laviolette, also a freshman at Lodi High, dropped out of cheerleading camp to attend institute.

“It was a very good experience. It even helped lift my spirits,” she said, noting that she enrolled in the female leadership program, which helped her gain confidence and understand what it means. be a role model. “I learned that there are many ways to be an effective leader. »

Aleena Aguirre, a new senior at McNair High School in Stockton, signed up for a course called Innovating with Purpose, where students learned how to shoot video using drones, build 3D models, create virtual reality experiences, designing graphics and doing other activities.

Aleena Aguirre, a new senior at McNair High School in Stockton, worked on a plush keychain she designed as part of a course at Pacific University.Carolyn Jones/EdSource

One afternoon last week, she was sewing a bright yellow duck-shaped plush key ring she had designed on a computer. Although she wanted to become a pediatrician, she enjoyed the creativity and hands-on activities of the innovation class.

“It really opened up my perspective. I feel like I’m stepping out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I also met a ton of people from different backgrounds, which was really fun.”

If she was home, she says, she would spend the summer staring at her phone.

One of the institute’s most popular programs was eSports, also known as gaming. Twenty students spent their days in a darkened room in front of computer screens, shooting targets and racking up points.

Esports is one of the most popular courses at the University of the Pacific Summer Institute for high school students.Carolyn Jones/EdSource

But the instructor, Pacific Business Professor Lewis Gale, also touched on academic topics. Students learned about esports business, marketing, strategy, communication, the importance of collaboration and teamwork, and employment opportunities related to gaming skills, such as technologies some information.

Uriel Lopez Cortes, who will be a junior at Tokay High in Lodi, said he was thrilled to hear that gambling can actually lead to jobs in the tech industry. He also learned how the esports business works and how professional gamers make money – sometimes a lot of money.

High school students at the University of the Pacific Summer Institute take a break between classes to enjoy the campus.Carolyn Jones/EdSource

But it’s the other aspects of the institute that he enjoys the most, like the big breakfasts of pancakes, eggs, and bacon, and meeting new people.

“Last summer I was home all the time, bored,” he said. “But it’s fun.”

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