NORTH BEND -- Eight-year-old Natalie Cheal was on vacation the first month of summer, so when she got back she had some catching up to do.
For the first time, her school, Hillcrest Elementary, was using an online educational program students would access at home. It's the same program the school had been using, now accessible outside the school's computer network.
It wasn't required, but the school was offering a $20 reward and ice cream party to the students who were on the program the most during the summer.
'I heard all my friends were doing it, so I wanted to, as well," Natalie said. She did two to three sessions a day of the program, called SuccessMaker.
The idea was to limit student regression during the summer months when students generally don't participate in much academic learning, Principal Bruce Martin said.
To his delight, the students who utilized the program over the summer advanced.
This week, Hillcrest plans to begin using the program for homework, not just optional work.
'I would like it to go to homework," Mary Shoen-Clark said. Her daughter, Caslin Shoenclark, 10, used the program over the summer more than any other student in her grade.
The program begins by accessing a student's level, then working from there. It does not advance a student until he or she has mastered the current level.
The students like that.
'I liked how math, it got me to my level really quickly," 9-year-old Eric Pringle said. 'I'm happy it keeps me on a higher level, and I understand times tables."
Pringle also read about Neil Armstrong on SuccessMaker this summer.
Armstrong, Pringle said, worked at a bakery before becoming an astronaut. The odd job actually helped him in his career as an astronaut, Pringle explained. One of Armstrong's duties was to wash out large pots. To do this, he would climb inside the pot, which was a similar size to some areas of the spaceship he would later ride to the moon.
'Then, at the end, it showed a Neil Armstrong video of him jumping out of the space station onto the moon," Pringle said, a big smile on his face.
Students who don't have a computer or Internet access at home are at a disadvantage, especially when the school begins using the program for required homework, Martin said. But the school is developing plans to compensate for that. It may open a computer lab after school, or work with students individually to find a system that works best for them.
Teachers are adamant the program does not replace class instruction.
Most of the kids that participated in the summer program know a subject -- such as multiplication or division -- that the rest of the class has not learned yet.
Once a student masters a subject, the program advances him or her to a new level. For example, in math a student may progress from multiplication to division.
At each level, the program 'teaches" the student the new subject.
'If she's having trouble it will show an example," Natalie's mother, Julie Bachelor, said.
The program introduced Natalie to division for the first time Sunday afternoon.
'Mom, what is this?" she said, turning from her laptop to her mother, who sat behind her on her bed.
'The school encourages the kids to do it by themselves because then it will show what their level actually is," Bachelor said. 'Sometimes I help with the concept."
The program continually grades and accesses student progress, then gives their teachers reports on which areas the students are successful in and which areas they need additional help.
Once all the students are participating, this will inform class instruction time, teachers say.
Teachers and parents who have worked with the program agree it takes parent involvement for it to be successful.
In addition to the $20 reward for the student who spent the most time on SuccessMaker during the summer, students sometimes need daily encouragement, Shoen-Clark said.
She and her husband, Mark Clark, had Caslin do three 20-minute sessions a day over the summer. Before this summer, Schoen-Clark would try to find level-appropriate books for Caslin, and try to review math skills with her.
'But after the fifth time explaining something you start to get that tone in your voice," Shoen-Clark explained. 'The computer never gets impatient."
Caslin said she likes the program, as well. She grabbed a piece of scratch paper and wrote out a division problem.
'This is what the computer showed me," Caslin said, beaming as she divided out the numbers, writing the answer on top.
And 'I can read lots and lots of hard words," she said.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or email@example.com.