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Project-based learning transforms one Dauphin County high school’s summer school program

A Dauphin County high school is trying a new approach to summer school.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Steelton-Highspire Junior/Senior High School is trying a new approach to summer school, by motivating students through project-based learning.

In addition to the usual courses like math, English, and history, students are designing projects to improve their school, then spending three weeks to build and landscape their projects.

“A lot of people think about it and think, ‘This is an easy way out.’ It’s not. Our kids are doing double the work. They just don’t realize it because they’re having fun doing it,” principal Eleni Cordero said. 

The idea for the program sprung out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning left a lot of students struggling academically. At the beginning of summer break, a large group of students at Steel-High were missing the credits needed to graduate to the next grade, according Cordero.

“Summer school is usually the kids who don’t do what they need to do during the school year successfully,” Cordero said. “The project-based learning, that’s how we engage. Kids, even adults, if we own what we’re doing and we have a part in it, of course we’re going to be invested in it and want to do our best.”

The program is seeing success, Cordero said. Many students have perfect attendance. The credits they are earning will help them graduate on time.

At the end of June, the incoming senior class had 52 students. Thanks to credits earned through summer school, it’s now set to have 88.

There are three major project groups, the largest being a beautification project. The school will get renovations and new plantings at the entrance, as well as a picnic table seating area outside.

The Home Depot Foundation donated $20,000 in materials for the project, including 562 bags of mulch, as well as staff volunteers to help the students through construction.

Students will begin construction of their projects on July 20.

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