"This is the best year we've had in a while," Benson said Friday, June 3, of the jump in enrollment. "But, we tried hard to get them here."
Even with a reduction in state funding, which eliminated the possibility of field trips, more students enrolled.
Last year, the district had about 100 elementary students enrolled in summer school. This year, 140 elementary students and another 60 high school students are participating, said Benson, who oversees the program.
Benson said district staff members realize that field trips have been a selling point for summer school.
"We will do everything we can to make summer school as enjoyable as possible for our students," according to district information on the program.
Benson said many junior and senior high school students mainly participate for credit recovery and drivers education, although many also are busy in the mass media class.
Elementary students attend for a variety of other reasons, he said.
"Some are catching up if they missed a lot of days during the year," Benson said. "Some are, hopefully, getting a head start before school starts in the fall."
Benson said the 20 extra days of school in the summer may not sound like much, but it is huge for preschool students who will learn kindergarten procedures, like going through the lunch line, before the regular school session begins. They also get acquainted with their teachers.
This year, enough students enrolled that the district could have two kindergarten classes.
Students also enjoy more hands-on experiments and one-on-one interaction with teachers.
As third-grade teacher Cassie Todd lead her troupe of new students into the school after a playground break, she said she also likes engaging the students in the more complex projects that summer school allows.
"Yesterday, we made a dry-ice comet," Todd said. "That was fun. I've never done that before."
Benson said local businesses help the district's effort to lure students into the summer school program by donating incentives, such as pizza coupons. The bank even gave small coin collections, he said.
The prizes are given to students for such things as perfect attendance weekly. The main reason, however, for encouraging children to participate, Benson said, is that, "We want them to learn."
The top prizes included two $50 Walmart cards, two bicycles, two 25-swim passes at Alton pool and two Silver Dollar City one-day passes.
Of Todd's group of upcoming third graders, many had participated in summer school in younger grades, although some had not. Their reasons for coming this year were varied.
"I like going swimming on Fridays," Kaden Hardester, 8, said.
Many of his classmates agreed.
Breeann Raffelli, 7, who is attending summer school for the first time, said, "I like it because we get to do all kinds of different projects."
Launa Cheevers, 8, said she, too, most enjoys the projects.
According to the district's sign-up information, summer school is a way to enrich and reinforce basic skills. Classes are designed to help students with math, reading and writing. Teachers will use a variety of activities and games to make learning fun.
Parents pay no extra fees for the children to participate in summer school, although parents must provide transportation.
Ciera Keeney, who is 8 (almost 9), said she likes going to the pool and doing projects, although her main reason for wanting to come this year is much simpler.
"I like it because I can see my friends during the summer," Keeney said.
Summer can be a very long time, indeed, without friends.