Second grader Nathan Park (center) demonstrates a catapult he built using rubber bands and Popsicle sticks during class Tuesday as second grader Carlos Uziel works on his catapult as part of the Lancaster School District’s Summer of Exploration.

LANCASTER — School is out for the summer, but for an estimated 1,000 students learning continues through Lancaster School District’s Summer of Exploration.

The four-week program, which ends July 26, was open to students who will enter first through eighth grades when school begins

Aug. 6.

This year the District placed the programs at Discovery, Miller and West Wind elementary schools and Amargosa Creek Middle School. The program runs from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the elementary campuses, and from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Amargosa Creek. Students get breakfast and lunch.

“The program is completely voluntary. It’s not like they’re making up credits; it’s just an exploration,” said Rebecca Cooksey, assistant superintendent of Innovation and Technology Services.

At Miller Elementary Tuesday morning, incoming first-grade students worked at computers playing with numbers on programs they use during the school year. In another classroom students did art projects where they learned about citizenship, responsibility and respect. They also learned about how to protect the environment.

In teacher Kathryn Flanagan’s classroom incoming second graders learned how to make a catapult with rubber bands and Popsicle sticks. Flanagan showed off a paper helicopter students designed and made the day before.

“It’s let’s have fun with science, so these are first graders going into second. Last week we made magnetic slime. It was so much fun,”

Flanagan said.

Flanagan encourages her students to work out any problems they encounter on their own.

“I don’t want them to be, “Oh, I need help! I need help!’ So they’re very motivated,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said her students are excited to come to school every day.

Summer school is fun for teachers too.

“I love this hands-on. This is the best for the kids. Sometimes in the regular classroom there isn’t enough time. So these kinds of things, doing these hands-on projects, and then we come back and we talk about what we learned,” Flanagan said.

Second grader Nathan Park, nine, modified the design of the catapult to make it stronger.

“Sometimes it’s so powerful that it jumps up,” Nathan said.

Incoming fourth grader Tayelor Bermudez, nine,  drew an image of the Mona Lisa using pastels in her art class Tuesday morning.

“So I could come prepared for fourth grade,” Tayelor said, when asked why she signed up for summer school.

Student Stefan Navarro, nine, said his mother encouraged him to sign up for summer school.

“So I won’t be at home being bored,” said Stefan, who added a plug for his YouTube channel Star SGA 126.

Art teacher Francisco Ramirez said he is enjoying summer school.

“I’m loving this. The kids are having a blast. I have a big class, but they’re all loving the art,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez added summer school is the only time they can do this much art.

“During the school year art is one of the things we put on the back burner. In summer we get four weeks of art,” Ramirez said.

In teacher Jason Sprague’s fifth-grade class students wrote a story about the solar system.

“We’ve been focusing on the ecosystem and the solar system,” Sprague said.

Each school day Sprague’s students do a scavenger hunt where they have to find certain fact cards and read them. They work in teams to transfer the information to game cards.

Although the teachers are paid for their time, they volunteer to work summer school.

“We filled up the positions quite quickly,” Summer School Principal Tara Goines said.

Lancaster School District offered the summer enrichment program through a partnership with Learn4Life charter school. The students enrolled in Learn4Life for the summer.

“They reimburse us for the cost so it doesn’t cost us a dime for summer school,” said Rebecca Cooksey, assistant superintendent of Innovation and Technology Services for Lancaster School District.

California stopped reimbursing school districts for summer school programs several years ago. But because charter schools operate on a year-round schedule, they qualify to receive student funding through average daily attendance.

Lancaster’s Summer of Exploration uses the District’s own teachers and programs, but the teachers work for Learn4Life for the summer and are paid through the charter school.

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