In Willmar, summer school = academics + experiences

Thanks to federal pandemic aid, Willmar's summer school has been able to offer experiences for students in addition to their academic classes. School officials say experiences offer students a chance to get to learn about their community and expand their vocabulary.

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Emilio Dubon, 9, swings at an incoming pitch Tuesday, June 21, 2022, as he and other Willmar Middle School summer school program kids take part in baseball in front of the school.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Hitting was going well, but fielding still needed some work at baseball practice at Willmar Middle School last week.

Kids who might not otherwise have a chance to play have been participating in a baseball clinic for two hours after summer school classes end for the day. The 16 students were planning to play one, maybe two real games.

School Resource Officer Sam Neubauer, coaching in his Willmar Police Department uniform, and teacher and coach Jordan Steffer have worked to put on the baseball clinic this summer for the kids.

During practice last week, Neubauer kept up a constant chatter from behind the backstop. He called out balls, strikes and encouragement.

“Wait for a good pitch; wait for a good pitch,” he said. “Nice hit!”


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Willmar Middle School school resource officer Sam Neubauer, from left, works with students Kener Galeano, 13, and Anderson Dubon, 11, during the Willmar Middle School summer school baseball program on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Steffer coached from the outfield and helped handle hits that sailed over players’ heads. Some of them are good hitters, he said, and all have improved since early June.

A few played ball before, like Nahomy Ramos, who grew up playing it in her native Nicaragua. Others are new to the game. A few said it was fun, but they preferred soccer.

Neubauer said he’s enjoyed getting to know the kids outside school and to have them see him in a different light. ”It’s an opportunity for me to continue to mentor them,” he said.

The program has been able to provide Willmar Cardinals jerseys and baseball cleats for the kids and gave them baseball pants formerly used by the school’s sports programs. They use the school’s gloves, balls, bats and helmets.

Thanks to federal pandemic aid, Willmar's summer school has been able to offer experiences for students in addition to their academic classes. School officials say experiences offer students a chance to get to learn about their community and expand their vocabulary.

Neubauer got permission to choose unclaimed bicycles from the city impound lot to give to players who needed one. He found bikes in good shape that would fit the kids ages 11-13.

It’s been particularly helpful for a young man who had been walking from far northwest Willmar, he said.

The baseball program is part of a series of enrichment programs offered by Willmar Public Schools this summer.

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Nahomy Ramos, 14, warms her arm up by throwing a baseball around with fellow players during a Willmar Middle School summer school baseball program on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune


Learning and fun

Activities are a complement to the academic work that has gone on in classrooms at the Middle School, Lakeland Elementary, the Area Learning Center and Willmar Senior High School.

A total of about 500 K-12 students have attended the academic part of summer school this month. The last day is June 30.

A goal of summer school is to help students with academics after the pandemic disrupted their education, said Director of Teacher and Learning Carrie Thomas.

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Students in the lower grades have more traditional classes, while high school students at the Senior High and ALC are there to finish credits they missed. It can help them stay on track to graduate.

Federal pandemic relief funding allowed the district to expand its summer school to offer more enrichment activities.
The activities help the students learn more about their community, and are designed to provide hands-on learning and help develop both social and emotional skills.

Superintendent Jeff Holm said experiences in the community are good for all kids.

“The experiences can help them broaden their vocabulary and cultural knowledge,” he said.

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Nahomy Ramos, 14, hits a baseball during the Willmar Middle School summer school baseball program on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

This past school year had fewer disruptions than earlier in the pandemic, but there were some, he said.


“We were able to go through the year without distance learning,” he said, and that was due to the staff members covering for each other “without complaint” when it was needed.

“I’m grateful and impressed,” he said. “It’s a testimonial to the quality of people we employ.”

Middle School Assistant Principal Jen Sabol said the additional funding allowed many new activities this summer. The Middle School summer courses are designed to address academic needs while showing kids how school is important for their future, she said.

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For example, math classes include some beginning financial planning. English students are writing about what they are learning in other courses.

Each day, groups of students go biking, using the Glacial Lakes State Trail and the city’s BikeWillmar rental bicycles, Sabol said.

Other summer activities have included trips to Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer and talks from community leaders about their careers.

Kathryn Thein, a student support coordinator at Lakeland, is coordinating enrichment activities this summer.

Activities will continue after summer school ends. School staff will provide supplementary programming for elementary children when the United Way Growmobile visits parks in July. Other students will participate in science, technology, engineering and math programs.

Kids have gone out on area lakes with Let’s Go Fishing, and to Como Zoo in St. Paul. Some high school students went to a Minnesota Twins game.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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