The YMCA of Central Ohio is collaborating with the South-Western City School District to offer programs at four district schools this summer that combine reading and academic enhancement with youth enrichment activities.
"We've done programs for the district in the past, but this is the first time we've done a full-blown program that intertwines enrichment activities during the afternoon and an academic-based literacy program in the morning," said Nancy Brody, metropolitan school-age quality education research director for the YMCA.
The program originally was slated for Stiles Elementary School only, Brody said.
The Stiles sessions are being funded through a $30,000 grant from Y in the USA, the YMCA's national organization, she said.
"Stiles was selected for this program because of a combination of being a low-income school with a very high rate of free and reduced(-price) lunches plus a large number of English as a Second Language students," Brody said.
The school district asked if the YMCA would be willing to help organize summer programs at three other schools: Harmon and Prairie Lincoln elementary schools and Franklin Woods Intermediate School, she said. The activities at those three schools are being funded by the school district.
The YMCA has hired district teachers to conduct the morning educational sessions while Y employees mostly handle the afternoon enrichment program, Brody said.
At the elementary schools, students in kindergarten and first grade spend the morning working on their reading, writing and math skills, she said.
The reading work is designed in part to help students prepare for being able to meet the state's new third-grade reading guarantee and/or to keep their reading skills from falling behind while school is out for the summer, Brody said.
ESL students also are able to work on improving their English speaking skills, she said.
"We're trying to keep students and their teachers from having to take time at the start of the school year to catch up after the long summer," Brody said.
Students entering the fourth and fifth grades also are working to improve and maintain their reading skills at Franklin Woods, she said.
In the afternoon, students participate in a variety of enrichment activities, including swimming lessons, educational field trips, lessons on health and nutrition and at least one hour a day of physical fitness activities.
The summer program has run each Monday through Thursday since June 24 and will end today, Aug. 1.
"I was just out at Stiles and what's great is that the staff members and the children are so enthusiastic," Brody said. "Every staff member I spoke to asked if we could please, please do this program again next year. We'd love to do it again, but it will depend on whether funding is available."
"We've been able to include a lot of fun activities, both in the morning and afternoon, so the kids don't feel like they're spending the summer at school," said Mary Schneider, the YMCA's child-care director.
The food and nutrition aspect of the program is perhaps as important as the educational and fitness components, she said.
"The children are learning about the importance of eating healthy," Schneider said. "Some of them didn't realize, for example, how important it is to drink a lot of water."
Students receive two nutritious meals and a snack at the program each day, she said.
"The staff members say they can tell some of these kids, especially on Monday after the weekend, are hungry and perhaps haven't been able to have a complete meal at home," Schneider said.
Elana Lenihan, assistant child-care director, helps to oversee the Stiles program and said she has been thrilled with the youngsters' enthusiasm.
"The kids are so excited to learn," she said early this week. "We will not be doing our testing until (July 31), but I think it's certain we'll see some real educational benefits for the students."
A total of 146 students have participated in the program at the four schools, Brody said. The program also has been open to students from other district schools located near the host sites.