Students across the Coastside had the opportunity to participate in a five-week summer program that provided opportunities to learn as they played, explored and created. 

La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District sent 40 students in the kindergarten through third grade to Big Lift camp. In addition, about 100 other students attended the district’s other summer programs, which included Panther Camp, credit recovery and the Josè Valdès Math Camp. 

The county started the Big Lift Initiative in 2013 intending to improve students’ reading levels. In 2015, San Mateo County gave Cabrillo Unified School District and LHPUSD grants to participate in the program. 

South Coast students played with the “try it truck” or the “rigamajig” from the Bay Area Discovery Museum, building and making whatever their imaginations could concoct this summer. Visitors, like Dr. Toothbrush and a musician, came to teach and interest the students. TomKat Ranch facilitated a garden project with the students, and a circus of two people involved the kids in the show with spinning plates among other things. 

“One woman did this incredible hula-hooping, like a hundred hula hoops,” said Kristen Lindstrom, who works in special education at the district, at the school board meeting in August. “So guess what all the kids wanted to do afterward? We had to hula-hoop. It was mandatory.

“We do all kinds of things to try to make the summer special and not like school,” she added. “We have pancakes every Friday. We make lattes for the teachers.”

Breakfast, lunch and snacks were provided to students, staff, volunteers and parents. 

“It was a community builder to be able to offer people food all the time,” Lindstrom said. “It breaks down barriers.” 

Although the literacy results are not yet finalized for this summer, the South Coast district has seen an average of three months of reading gains during the program, six weeks higher than the county average. The results will be available this fall. 

Lindstrom recalled asking one young boy how he was enjoying the activities and trips. “He kept saying, ‘It was fascinating.’ I think he must’ve learned that vocabulary word and wanted to try it out,” she said. “One of the teachers said, ‘This stuff actually teaches kids how to think.’” 

They also went on field trips to Jones Gulch for swim lessons or hiking, the CuriOdyssey museum in San Mateo, and to Redwood Glen for the closing ceremony. Families, district staff and Supervisor Don Horsley attended. 

“I believe in what we’re doing,” Lindstrom said. “It makes it easier to do because it’s working. What we’re doing works.”

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