Best Possible Summer: Beatrice program fuses curriculum and imagination

Best Possible Summer: Beatrice program fuses curriculum and imagination


NCSA Communications Specialist


This is not your father’s summer school.

In fact, it’s not really summer school at all. Not in the traditional sense, anyway.

Sure, there’s curricular guidelines complete with reading, math and social studies. And sure, the “Best Possible Summer” program takes place within the walls of Beatrice’s Stoddard Elementary school.

Poke your head in a classroom, take in five minutes of a session (perhaps Art Makes You Smart, Candy Experiments, or Escape Room: Help! We can’t find the missing librarian!) and you’ll see firsthand that what the Beatrice administration has developed over the last four years is a jam-packed-with-fun June for all K-5 students.

What makes the program special lives in the imaginations of its 300-plus students.

“Four years ago, our summer program was very remedial-based, geared for kids that were behind a little bit,” said John Brazell, Director of Financial and Business Affairs for Beatrice Public Schools. “We changed the focus to be more of an extended learning opportunity to get as many kids as we could in summer school and base it on hands-on learning activities.”

The shift in focus worked. Beatrice’s summer program, aptly named to correspond with the “BPS” acronym, saw a dramatic boost in enrollment, from 75 kids to over 300. BPS lasts for four weeks in June, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with free breakfast and lunch. It’s free and offered to students from all four elementary schools in Beatrice, in addition to St. Joseph’s and St. Paul’s and home-schooled students.

“We decided to make it more like summer camp,” said Betty Replogle, principal of Paddock Lane and Stoddard Elementary Schools and a longtime summer school organizer. “Let’s make it more fun, where there’s still learning, reading, math, language arts, history, all sorts of things, but let’s do it in a totally hands-on, fun way. And there came the beginnings of Best Possible Summer.”

The planning process is year-long. In January, teachers and paras in the Beatrice school district receive an email detailing sessional opportunities. If interested in coming up with a course of their own, in whatever imaginative way they please, then they sign up and get to planning. Parents receive an email from the school and students are sent home with a flyer before registration starts in the spring.

Beatrice Director of Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Professional Development Jackie Nielsen does a majority of the leg work as far as planning goes, according to Replogle.

Some sessions were nearly full after an hour.

“It’s a whole different way to work with kids,” Replogle said. “It’s exploration at its best, and hands-on exploration at that. Not that we don’t do that during a regular school day. We do. But during a school day we have an hour and a half for reading, an hour and a half for math, and so many minutes for social studies and science. Here, if kids love math they are going to do math for three hours, not 45 minutes. They absolutely love it.”

Beatrice superintendent Pat Nauroth said the school district is aware of the effects of summer learning loss, so offering summer activities that encourage kids to read, do math, and to think is an important thing to do.

“When you look at the number of kids in the program, and I would assume that it’s going to continue to grow, I think what you find are great, hands-on, project-based activities that kids just have a great time with,” Nauroth said. “It also gives the school an opportunity to link up with several community partners in a way that can’t during the school year.”

For example, BPS buses a group of campers to the Beatrice Humane Society each day. Interaction with the Gage County Extension Office and Homestead National Monument are just a couple of additional examples of community incorporation in BPS.

“The school is a key part of the community and we are heavily involved in the economic development of the community,” Brazell said. “The connections we can make, to build our kids up to promote our community and to stay in our community as entrepreneurs is only going to help our community’s future. That is one of the reasons it is important to build those relationships.”

As Beatrice continues to grow as a school district, Nauroth said early childhood, extended learning opportunities, and college and career readiness are three critical aspects that the administration has placed an emphasis on. All three have been expanded in the last four years, thanks to the support of the community and the school board. In the fall, Beatrice will launch an afterschool program that will offer some of the same opportunities as BPS.

“These things wouldn’t happen without support from the board and the community because they do take some funds and require different thinking,” Nauroth said. “We are very fortunate in Beatrice to have a school board that sees the big picture and is very progressive in looking to provide quality opportunities for students.”

That support, coupled with an innovative and passionate staff, has made the extended opportunities in Beatrice a reality. It’s also made memories for 300 kids that continue to grow intellectually through June.

“It is nice to work with people that care so much about children and how they develop that they are willing to devote their lives to that,” Nauroth said. “A lot of them do so much more than quote what their job is. They just take a genuine interest in children and building relationships with them.”

Replogle said she’s almost like the “Senior Historian” on the Beatrice administrative team, with 30 years served and 45 in total. She’s greeted with hugs in most classrooms and beams when talking about all of the fascinating sessions “Best Possible Summer” has to offer.

“It’s just really fun, and the kids are great.” Replogle said. “It’s nothing like going to summer school. It’s like going to camp. This is just so awesome for our kids to do.”

Replogle is a Nebraskan. She graduated from UNL, and chose to stay in the state. No matter what is happening on the east and west coast, from an educational standpoint, it’s the belief in family, and the connections formed, that make Nebraska’s public schools special, she said.

“I think Nebraska is kind of like this little hidden secret about how really smart we are here,” she said. “I think we are a pretty special place.”

It’s the support for public education, the devoted commitment to kids that makes our schools so great, Brazell said.

“We are doing things right, and we are doing them for the right reasons,” he said. “We try to do things for the right reasons and structure them in that direction, always. It’s a big part of what makes Nebraska’s public schools great.”

From Cupcake Wars to the Wild, Wild West to Fairy Tales, the “Best Possible Summer” program in Beatrice fuses imagination to standard curriculum for four weeks in June.

And it’s only getting started.