Grooving with Columbus at summer school program

Published 8:09 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rising third-graders sing and dance to learn about early European explorers of the American continent during a summer enrichment class at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School Wednesday.

A program under way at four Suffolk public elementary schools will help bridge the learning gap when students return to their studies in the fall, organizers say.

The Summer Transitional and Enrichment Program (S.T.E.P.), titled “History’s Alive: Traveling through Time,” is happening at Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr. and Southwestern elementary schools.

Running from 8:30 a.m. to noon, it started on Monday and ends on Aug. 9, involving 207 rising third- through fifth-graders from the four site schools plus Booker T. Washington, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores and Nansemond Parkway elementary schools.

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Participating students were recommended for the program by principals and teachers. “We had parents calling in the summer saying, ‘I want our kids to go into the S.T.E.P. program,’” said program site coordinator Barbara Patterson.

Former teacher and administrator Lisa Meyers, a consultant on the program, said the program is “designed for enrichment.”

“Many times in the summer, you will find remediation programs,” she said. “The unique and wonderful thing about this program is it’s enrichment.

“We’re saying we’re going to give you a sneak preview into the content you will experience next year, so you will have the opportunity to serve as an expert and show everyone else what you got to discover.”

Despite its history-specific title, she said, the program integrates the disciplines of English, art and math “so it doesn’t feel like school.”

It appeared that objective was being achieved at Mack Benn Wednesday, where a room of rising third-graders sang and danced to a song about Christopher Columbus, and read some of their favorite stories on Nook e-readers.

“Some of the books are easy peasy, like ‘Pete the Cat,’” as one student said, while others stretch their reading skills a little further.

“We love the color Nooks because it because it allows the children to be independent learners, and it’s so empowering,” Meyers said.

“They don’t have to wait for the teacher to come along, and say, ‘Can you please help me with this?’ They are problem solving through the text.”

The rising third-graders at Mack Benn began their discovery of Columbus — one of several explorers they’ll learn about this coming school year — on Monday, and “I came in and they said, ‘Do you know that Spain sponsored Christopher Columbus?’” Meyers said.

The program is supported by a Title I federal grant and staffed by many Suffolk public school elementary teachers, and students are provided with breakfast, snacks and transportation at no cost to parents.