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For 1,500 Gadsden County students in a summer enrichment program, learning doesn’t take a summer vacation

Last Wednesday at the Joe Ferolito Recreation Center in Quincy, the Gadsden County School District showed off summer enrichment activities that have been taking place this summer at George W. Munroe and Stewart Street elementary schools to state education officials.

Representatives from the Florida Department of Education monitored student performances and exhibits as part of a formal observation of the district’s summer enrichment program, which included 1,500 students at six locations around the county. The students were excited to show off what they had learned this summer and expressed appreciation to their teachers.

“Thank you for helping us learn and have a wonderful summer,” Aiyena Robinson of Quincy, a rising first-grader at Stewart Street Elementary School, told her teacher, Jennifer Anderson.

“Thanks to all the hard work our students did this summer, they will be much better prepared when the school year comes around,” Anderson said.

This summer program is just one of the many devised by the school district under its 21st Century Community Learning Centers division, operated under the watchful eye of director Joanette Thomas.

“Our 21st Century summer curriculum is not remedial learning but is an enrichment program designed to help students prepare for the upcoming school year and the work in the grades they will be going into,” Thomas said.

Thomas noted under the direction of School Superintendent Roger Milton and the Gadsden County School Board, the focus this summer was providing more hands-on, engaging activities. An interesting example: “Aquaponics,” a program run by Farming the Future president Michele Madison in which animals and plants grow in the same environment. Students in the aquaponics program grew plants and fish while learning how to market a product.

Other hands-on activities this summer across the school district included:
• Carpentry, in which students built benches and other items to beautify their schools;
• Dance, music and art partnerships with outside arts organizations to allow children opportunities to appreciate the arts to get a more well-rounded education;
• Computer-aided design programs that allowed children to use their imaginations and creativity to develop 3-D products;
• 3-D computers that enhanced science projects to better engage the students in basic experiments and improve their environmental science awareness; and
• Field trips to Florida State University, Florida A&M University, The Mag Lab and The Tallahassee Museum – as well as to local swimming pools and recreation centers – to broaden the students’ experiences and horizons.

The activities at each school were determined by Thomas in conjunction with each principal, who identified the most pressing needs of their school’s students. Funding for the 21st Century Program comes from the U.S. Department of Education through the Florida Department of Education. Opportunities for funding are offered on a competitive basis to each school district and community-based organizations within specific geographic areas to provide children with academic and enrichment services.

The Gadsden County program ran for six weeks, four days a week, eight to 10 hours a day. Each day included four to five hours of academics in the morning and four to five hours of supervised project-based learning and enrichment activities after lunch in the afternoons. Thomas said the primary purpose of the program is to “support the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.”

“The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children,” Thomas said.

School Board member Tyrone Smith was on site for the program demonstration last Wednesday and said he was “very impressed” with what he witnessed.

“This is fabulous,” Smith said.” To see all the skills and concepts on display the students learned this summer shows me our school district is headed in the right direction. I definitely think the program was better this summer than in years past.”

By Randall Lieberman

Photos by Randall Lieberman, except where noted otherwise.