Upbeat music played in the gymnasium as students laughed and jumped in a bounce house, raced on inflatable horses, dodged obstacles on scooter boards, competed in relay races, and played games like musical chairs, bean bag toss and Connect 4.
Thomas Jefferson Middle School students blasted off into summer Thursday on the last day of summer school during the school's first "Summer School Blast Off" event.
Students who were placed in social-emotional learning groups for additional behavioral support spent 15 days planning the day for the whole school.
Behavior interventionists Danielle Schaefer and Paula Smith had the students spend summer school planning the event as a way for them to gain social-emotional skills and create an opportunity for the students and staff to have fun and celebrate.
The students learned how to plan, lead, adapt, overcome challenges, and effectively communicate and advocate for their ideas.
"To be honest, these students normally wouldn't be here for the whole summer school because their behavior would've gotten them kicked out - but we gave them a purpose and a reason and a goal," Smith said.
James Groves, the summer school interim principal, said he wanted summer school this year to include more opportunities to build positive relationships and more fun experiences that get students excited about learning and teach them social-emotional skills.
The Summer School Blast Off was a culmination of the fun experiences and community feel the students and staff have had during summer school this year, Groves said. Through planning the event, the students feel more connected to their school and have taken pride in their role at TJMS.
"We wanted to make it a fun, end-of-summer-school event that really brought everybody together," Groves said. "It's just been amazing what they've done because these are kids that are oftentimes struggling during the regular school year, and now they can take ownership for their role in the school."
For many of the students, this is the first opportunity they've had to be a leader and vocalize expectations to other students.
"For them to feel that confidence of being in charge of something is huge," Schaefer said.
Along with playing games in the gymnasium, students ate hot dogs and cotton candy, and did other fun activities that were sprinkled throughout the day, like a watermelon-spitting contest.
"It's just old-school fun and letting them be willing to be silly," Smith said.
US Rents It, Hy-Vee, Mo-Fun and Coca-Cola sponsored the event, and US Rents It staff even helped the students move equipment inside due to rain.
"It just warms our heart how much they were willing to help us," Schaefer said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many changes students and staff had to adapt to, so the day of activities was a way for students and staff to celebrate their hard work, perseverance and creativity.
The Jefferson City School District loosened some of its COVID-19 restrictions for summer school, including not requiring masks for the last two weeks of summer school.
"Our students and staff have done a phenomenal job making sure we follow every guideline, and for them to get a break from the masks and see their smiles again has been so brightening," Schaefer said. "Their smiles are so rewarding."
Every teacher usually has a celebration with their class on the last day of summer school, but the Summer School Blast Off was a way for all students and staff to celebrate together.
Schaefer and Smith said they hope to have a similar event every year, and they hope it will evolve into something even bigger.
"We really wanted to create a memorable ending to summer school," Schaefer said. "We want it to be a positive experience of building on our community and relationships with staff and students."