Jane Ventrone, Steppingstone’s Senior Director of Teaching and Learning, works with staff to create an engaging and educational curriculum for Steppingstone Scholars – a challenging task, given that Scholars attend schools all over the city and enter the program at different grades and levels. We sat down to chat with her about how staff make Steppingstone classes fun while still teaching Scholars important classroom and life skills.
How do you choose the books Scholars will read each summer?
There are some books that Scholars have been reading since before I worked at Steppingstone, like The Giver; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other books were suggested by faculty members, and others we chose based on research and talking with other educational organizations or schools. All of our books have two things in common: the stories they tell are engaging for Scholars, and the level and content of the text allows us to teach the skills in our curriculum.
Do you do anything special to make summer classes engaging and fun (projects, hands on work, etc.)? Are there ways summer classes are different from the classes Scholars take during the school year?
Yes! We want all of our classes to be engaging and fun. This applies to both summer and academic year classes. There are a lot of projects and hands-on activities suggested in our curriculum, and we encourage teachers to bring their own ideas of how to make the classes engaging. Examples of engaging activities include building roller coasters in science class, creating and playing original board games in math class, and staging a fictional talk show interview with characters from the novels in English class.
What are some of the most important skills you’re hoping Scholars will develop throughout the summer? Are these skills different for Scholars in their first summer versus those who are returning?
Each course at Steppingstone has a list of skills Scholars will learn by the end of the summer. These skills are specific to each grade level and include some review skills from the previous grade and some skills for the grade Scholars will enter in the fall. Some examples include solving equations, identifying and using metaphors, and using a microscope. There are other skills that come up in multiple courses, such as using critical thinking, engaging in productive discussions, and finding evidence in a text. These are skills that Scholars can take with them and use throughout middle school, high school, and college.
Are there differences in how you design the College Success Academy’s (CSA) curriculum vs. The Steppingstone Academy’s (TSA)? If so, what are they?
Since CSA Scholars are currently coming from only four different BPS schools, we talk with their school teachers each year to ask if there are skills we should focus on – either to review from the previous school year or to preview for the next school year. At TSA, most Scholars attend exam or independent schools after their second summer, so we gather information from these schools about what skills will most prepare Scholars for school in the fall. The structure of the curriculum across both programs looks quite similar. Teachers receive the same type of information (a general overview, a skills list, resources, assessments, etc.) and courses are designed to be engaging and challenging.
What was the biggest surprise for you when you came to Steppingstone?
I was surprised at how organized and well-planned everything is at Steppingstone. We are lucky to have a highly skilled and extremely dedicated staff that works hard to design and implement excellent programming for Scholars. There are so many systems in place to ensure that Scholars are learning and having fun. After ten years, I’m still impressed with how well-run Steppingstone is!
If you could take just one Steppingstone summer class, which one would it be?
TSA Perspectives or CSA Humanities. I know this is two classes, but they are similar! These classes focus on history and social studies content (the Underground Railroad, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), which I find really interesting. I taught 7-II Perspectives at TSA for a few summers and I really loved it!
If you had to give one piece of advice to incoming Scholars about their summer classes, what would you tell them?
Learn from your fellow Scholars! Take advantage of opportunities to work in groups and have high-level discussions with your classmates. These are skills that you can take with you throughout your academic journey to and through college and into your careers. Also, just enjoy the summer – it flies by!