Summer session ‘enriches’ kids


This has been the sixth season of enrichment for Harrison school children.

During a four-week summer session ending Aug. 4, enrichment has meant re-working those academic skills in language arts and math to avoid a “summer slide” and to carry on to the next grade level.

But it also conveyed a sense of how theoretical assumptions can be applied to real world issues.

And, perhaps most importantly, it showed kids that “learning can be fun,” as one teacher put it.

This summer, about 200 students in kindergarten to grade 12 participated in the program, hosted by Harrison High School. It cost about $90,000 for teacher salaries, lunches, supplies and field trips, according to Amy Heberling, one of three program coordinators and the district’s assistant director of curriculum and literacy coach.

This year’s program marked a shift in strategy with the re-allocation, to the district budget, of $45,000 previously used for stipends for the older students as a “Learn to Earn” incentive in favor of expanding to include lower grades. Administrators felt that high school seniors and juniors would pick up income from summer jobs.

“Anyone who wants to come to the program can be admitted,” Heberling said. “The program is strong and the kids are excited to be here.”

While participation is voluntary for grades 6 to 12, “for the younger ones who are struggling academically and need more instruction,” however, “we have them come,” Heberling said.

Students split their time between working on deficiencies in math and literacy skills to try and achieve appropriate grade-level proficiencies and special projects where the teacher serves as a guide but the students work independently or as part of a team to achieve a goal.

Children in grades K to 3, for example, developed social skills by interacting as a group to develop a brownie sale to benefit the Humane Society. The kids figured out what ingredients they needed, the measurements, developed a shopping list, did the mixing and baking – everything but the slicing of the final products.

In prior summers, first-grade teacher Donna Thompson recalled, the kids created charity projects to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, St. John’s Shelter/Pantry in Newark and last year, they fund-raised on behalf of a local family burned out of their home.

Second-grade instructor Colleen Barnhill and kindergarten teacher Kimberly Dolaghan said that the youngsters fare well when they’re given an opportunity to experience learning in a more “relaxed” setting.

In the freedom of “less structure,” said kindergarten teacher Jennifer Malefsky, “we’re able to see how excited the kids are.”

Fourth-graders used duct tape, paper clips and paper to create bookmarks of their own design to sell and are donating the proceeds to an organization that distributes children’s books to doctors’ offices.

Sixth- and seventh-graders were doing fund-raising for an area animal shelter and collecting surplus bedding from area hotels for the dogs at the shelter.

They got to see – up-close and personal – several “rescue” canines brought to their classroom by high school special education English teachers Leanne Mariano-Ehnat and Nicole Smith.

“We talked about the importance of advocating for abused dogs or dogs from puppy mills,” said Smith.

And the youths took that advice to heart by dividing into small groups to collaborate on computer-based research on conditions in overpopulated shelters and puppy mills, dogs deployed for fighting and on backyard breeding of dogs. and creating power-point presentations which each group then offers to their classmates.

Grades 8 and 9 were combining to create a color brochure promoting the virtues of Harrison, said eighth-grade language arts teacher Kim Magdalena.

“They had to make phone calls to schedule interviews with people from the town, like the mayor, the library, police and fire departments, the community center, the principal and vice principal at Washington School, stores and restaurants,” Magdalena said.

“We had a local realtor come in and talk to them about purchasing a home or renting in Harrison,” she added.

In some cases, the kids used the internet to get facts on certain topics but ran into a hitch for a while when they discovered that the town website was inaccessible after it had been hacked.

Ultimately, Magdalena said, the plan is to bring the completed brochure to a town meeting and persuade local officials to “adopt” it as an official municipal document.

Grades 10 and 11 worked on a task that blended science and art by developing a stop-motion/animation project.

As a sort of culminating activity, a group of 50 kids from grades 5 to 12 representing different school music ensembles will be performing in a public concert Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. at the high school in tandem with a fund-raising bake sale run by the high school band Soundwaves.


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