Ontario School District Outdoors teacher Clarissa Helliwell instructs a group of kids at Beck-Kiwanis Park. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel)

ONTARIO – School may be out for the season, but a full spread of summer options available from the Ontario School District means that kids are still at work – some of them outside. 

OSD Outdoors, a new program being piloted by Summer Programs Director Anabel Ortiz Chavolla and head teacher Clarissa Helliwell, features a morning class that rotates three times a week through different city parks.

After a year of instruction online, the chance to be with Helliwell and her three college-age assistants is a valuable opportunity for students to catch up. That is not just for academics, but for forging the social connections so important to learning. 

The program is operating out of Eastside Park, Beck-Kiwanis Park and Aiken Elementary School. Each session begins with academics before shifting into activities for the kids and a lunch catered from a local restaurant. 

On a recent morning, the two pavilions at Beck-Kiwanis Park bustled with activity. 

In one pavilion, the preschoolers and kindergarteners gathered around a pair of tables. The youngest kids worked on reading simple poems and then coloring in the illustrations. The slightly older kids colored in a turtle cut-out that they then folded to make three dimensional. 

In the other pavilion, grade schoolers on the brink of a transition from OSD Outdoors to regular summer school were taking an informal assessment to evaluate their progress. 

Ortiz Chavolla said that the reading and math topics chosen for OSD Outdoors had been selected in conversation with Steve Wyborney, the district’s math coach. The topics include counting by tens, area, and perimeter. 

“They were all explained at the beginning that for some of them it would be more of a review,” Helliwell said. “Some of you, you need more work, you’re going to have to work harder. (Others of you), if you know how to do it, you can help your friends.”

Each week, Helliwell and her assistants call the students who have signed up at home to remind them that OSD Outdoors will be at a park near their house Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Among the program’s challenges is never knowing which students will show up.

“It is complex because we’re servicing pre-K through fifth (grades), but we’ve had seventh and eighth graders showing up as well,” said Ortiz Chavolla. 

Still, she said, “with students having been home most of the year, a review is good.”

Helliwell said that she had decided to narrow the program’s focus because of the inconsistent attendance.

“Students technically participate in 7 sessions throughout June-July, so we have to be realistic about what we can teach them,” said Ortiz Chavolla.

On one Wednesday, Helliwell worked with the upper-grade table on area and perimeter. 

“Area, square’ya, squares inside, find the length and the width and multiply!” she intoned, with the students singing along. 

The students “used their bodies” as Helliwell instructed, closing the song by making a large X with both arms when they sang “multiply.” Then they practiced a rhyme for “perimeter.”

After the rhyming review, which Wyborney said is an Ontario School District classic with at least 13 years of history, the students drew figures with different areas and perimeters on the graph paper in their notebooks. 

“I made a little jingle to go with each one in part because those two concepts are easy for students to mix up. That’s because they’re usually applied to the same image,” Wyborney said. “Having two little songs is an easy way to separate those concepts.”

Program attendee Ian Contrereas, a rising sixth grader at Alameda Elementary, said that he was nervous about the math he would face in the next school year. 

“We’re going to start doing algebra,” he said. 

However, Contrereas likes math and said that he enjoys the activities at OSD outdoors. 

Program attendee Anita Gomez, who will be in fifth grade at Alameda Elementary, said that she enjoys math as well. She said that she feels confident going into the upcoming school year.

“My favorite subject in school is math because it’s always challenging,” she said. “Me and this guy always have competitions in math. We’d tie on our tests. I’ll beat him.”

Gomez also said that review had been important for moving from online back to the classroom.

“I learned how to do division, but then my computer wouldn’t work, so I couldn’t be in school for the whole day,” she said. That’s why it was helpful that “we still reviewed a bunch of stuff when we came back for school in person.”

According to instructional assistant Adriana Juarez, the program helps kids advance not just in math, but in social skills. 

“These two have never met each other and they gravitate towards each other now,” she said, gesturing to Gomez’s little sister and another young student. “And they like talking to us a lot too.” 

All three instructional assistants associated with the program are Ontario High School graduates currently in college. 

“It was pretty important for me to find mentors that could connect with our students and also help with the programming,” said Ortiz Chavolla. 

Carlos Nuñez, the district’s preschool readiness specialist, is also helping, working with preschool and kindergarten students. 

“It’s the first time we’ve done this,” Helliwell said, giving her assessment of the program. “The kids are liking the activities. (But) what are the things we’re going to have to change? How can we make this better if we do this type of set-up next year?” 

“Overall I’m very pleased with the intent of the program,” said Ortiz Chavolla. “The way I envisioned it might have been different because I didn’t know what to expect.”

Ortiz Chavolla said that after a year when so much programming for kids had been canceled, the goal was really to access students. 

“This was really a prototype for the future – We’ve sort of had the thought of doing it during breaks as well,” she said. “It’s all in the works right now.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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