This last month I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Head of School for BASIS Phoenix Primary, Deirdre Ewald, Head of School for BASIS Chandler, Matt FritzMiller, and Director of Middle School Programs, Kaylee Gengler, to discuss the schools’ unique BASIS Organizational and Study Skills (BOSS) Camp program at BASIS Charter Schools.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today! Could you please introduce yourselves?
Ewald: I’m Dierdre Ewald, Head of School for BASIS Phoenix Primary.
Gengler: I’m Kaylee Gengler, Director of Student Affairs for middle school programs. I have been at BASIS since 2018 and came in as a dean. I started in the Director of Academic Programs role. Then moved into the Director of Student Affairs role at the primary level, and I really enjoyed it. I thought I would see what the upper grades were like. So, I came to Chandler last year.
FritzMiller: I’m Matt FritzMiller, Head of School, just wrapping up my 8th year with BASIS. I am going into my 20th year in education.
What is BOSS Camp?
Ewald: BOSS Camp was designed to help set up our students to be successful with the curriculum at our school, as well as some of the organizational tools that we use on campus.
Gengler: I see it as a bridge and an introduction at the same time. I think it’s helpful for our students that are rising 5th graders to come and find out what they are getting next year without the jitters of the first day. Those that attend BOSS Camp over the summer already have a little bit of experience with the building, and they see familiar faces.
FritzMiller: So, like Kaylee said, they get to learn what BASIS Chandler is, because it is very different. They are not going to be with the same group of students all day, every day. It’s a good opportunity to get familiar with the teachers and the building. Our teachers do scavenger hunts around the building allowing them to navigate it before we have 1100 students in it. Navigating a building with 40 people in it is a lot easier than with 1200 people.
How did BOSS Camp become part of BASIS Charter Schools?
Ewald: It was something that was developed for students moving into the BASIS network. Our charter school network was originally middle and high school. So, when students joined BASIS they were coming from other public and private schools. There was a need to get them more acclimated to the curriculum and the way we deliver education. BOSS Camp came about to support that transition. It has been expanded to include multiple grades, and now can be offered to any student coming into a BASIS school. But we also have students that are transitioning from one grade to another. This is a tool to help them become accustomed to the structure changes.
When is BOSS Camp offered?
Ewald: Traditionally, it is offered in the summer, usually in the week or two prior to school starting when we have our teachers coming back for onsite training. But we have played with that a little bit, and there is flexibility for each campus to do it the way they like. We have been doing a Kindergarten BOSS Camp during the summer, and having those teachers lead it.
Our BOSS Camp for grades 1–5 has also been offered as a mini-club for the first week or two of school. Depending on enrollment and interest, we break it up for grades 1–3 and grades 4–5. Those groups operate and move in a similar way. The ways that these students use their Communication Journals is different as well, and they need to be taught how to use them effectively. [editor’s note: the planner used to organize the student, and relay communication between teachers, students, and parents] Also, depending on enrollment, we will have one to two teachers running the sessions. For example, if there are 30 kids, we will have one teacher. 60 kids we will have 2 teachers.
FritzMiller: Usually, it’s in the first two weeks of July. We do it before our summer institute before our onsite training. We want it to be close enough to the school year, but far enough back that our teachers are able to plan other things.
How do you see BOSS Camp evolving for students?
Ewald: I know that one of our 5th grade teachers is pretty passionate about BOSS Camp. They want it to be something that lasts longer into the school year. Currently, it’s a one and done. But we have had conversations about turning it into an extracurricular where it meets once or twice a week for several weeks. I think an opportunity to extend it would be beneficial. If you are teaching BOSS Camp throughout the year, you can have students pull out their Communication Journal and show them, in real-time, techniques they can use. And if they have a test coming up, they can do real test prep.
Gengler: We are seeing an evolution in the numbers of kids attending, and the amount of good feedback from the families. People are seeing the benefits of it, and they want their kids to participate. I can see adding a socio-emotional piece, such as how to handle test anxiety, deal with conflict, and other challenges as they enter Junior High.
FritzMiller: Clearly things are evolving in education all the time. When I started with BASIS there was no primary school. So, everyone coming in 5th grade, was new to BASIS. BOSS camp was an intro to what BASIS is. Now a lot of what BOSS camp used to be is covered by the primary schools. Our students coming in at 5th grade don’t need to learn what a Communication Journal is, or how to do lockers. The primary schools will do that with 4th graders towards the end of the school year. It would be interesting to go back to that very first BOSS Camp to see if it was different or the same!
One last question…What is BASIS to you?
Ewald: BASIS is an academically accelerated school that allows students to showcase their talents, and allows us to push kids a little further. It is a reminder that there is no limit to what we can succeed with. We just have to decide to aim higher. Let’s not put a cap on what we can do!
FritzMiller: BASIS is an opportunity for students to be stretched, pushed and become well-rounded.
Thank you for being a part of this interview and for shedding some light on BOSS Camp!
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Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.