Hundreds of children flooded into the hallways, dancing their hearts out as Education Commissioner Mike Morath got his first glimpse of a day in the life of students at Rose City Summer Camps at Dixie Elementary School.

"It's so great to be in Texas classrooms watching teachers pour love into our kids," he said.

Morath has been traveling to Texas school districts ahead of changes to STAAR test results and has tried to work in campus visits to get to know the families he is serving.

Tyler ISD partners with the Mentoring Alliance to offer the camps each year. The faith-based nonprofit seeks to help grow students spiritually and academically.

Program director Matthew Honeycutt said the program uses STAAR test results to help tailor the learning plans for attendees.

"From our side, it's about getting to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we also get to help fight summer regression," he said.

Honeycutt said the program focuses on intentionality. Everything they do with students is targeted. This year, they have transitioned away from worksheets that might not interest students to more engaging project-based learning.

Honeycutt said data from last summer showed they were able to cut reading loss over the break in half and expected losses in math actually became improvements.

Students at the camp are separated into "cabins" made up of two large tents set up in the classroom. Eight students are assigned to each cabin, with one teacher and two camp staff members per class. The camp staff is comprised of high school and college students.

Throughout the day, as students transition to other activities, the halls become a dance party with music and fun to keep their energy levels high.

Three Lakes Middle School teacher Susi Savage joined the team this year after being told she was sure to have a good time and get to make a real difference with the students.

"Learning is supposed to be a joy," she said. "I substituted last year and I just loved the energy."

Savage also enjoys engaging with students on a more personal level and finding lessons they connect with.

"It's much more hands on and creative," she said. "I get to find more things the students are interested in."

One recent lesson was on how Guam solved a snake infestation on a small island when the snakes had no natural predators. She said the students were enraptured as they learned how the government eventually solved the problem.

Savage said she would love to see these effective lessons implemented in her teaching year round. She said small touches such as letting the students have fun during transitions helps keep them in the right mindset to engage and learn.

"As a school, why don't we do these things? Why don't we have music on and why don't we dance?" she said. "If lifts your spirits and puts you in the right attitude."

Rose City Summer Camps run weekly from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Dixie Elementary School and Three Lakes Middle School. The program costs $99 per week, which includes daily breakfast, lunch and snacks. The Mentoring Alliance does offer financial assistance to parents who qualify.

For more information, visit

Twitter: @TMT_Cory


Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

Recommended for you