LEAPs and bounds ahead of 2014

Published 8:46 pm Monday, July 13, 2015

When the days are long and the sun is shining, beckoning children outdoors during summer break, what worse place could there be for a kid than cramped up in a classroom?

Driving to Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School last week to check out Suffolk Public Schools’ Leaning and Enrichment for Academic Progress program, or LEAP for short, my thoughts were thus.

Though I didn’t particularly hate school, the last day of school was always about the best day of the year. It always arrived with such excitement and sense of potential. To contemplate having to continue going to school each day would have been painful.

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When I arrived at Mack Benn, the first thing I noticed was that a large number of the elementary summer school students weren’t cramped up in classrooms at all; they were outside working on projects that must have been fun, for everyone was smiling.

Inside, genuinely happy teachers and staff greeted me — I’d imagined that summer school was about as fun for educators as I figured it must be for students, but I discerned no trace of resentment that the faculty members weren’t frolicking on some pristine beach, like a scene from one of those ads for Sandals Resorts.

Each classroom I ventured into was more of the same: Building paper mache globes, learning woodwork, knitting scarves — I couldn’t imagine the kids would have had any more fun sitting in front of an Xbox all day.

I do have to acknowledge that I was there in the afternoon, which is when students at the new-look summer school, in its first year, are rewarded with fun activities for their studiousness during the morning’s classroom lessons.

The afternoon “enrichment sessions” added two hours to the school day, which was four hours for the old elementary summer school. After the program was revamped with help from the United Way of South Hampton Roads, and support from various community partners and volunteers, the program also now runs for six weeks instead of four.

Attendance is up a lot — from 300-odd during the old summer elementary school to up around 500, according to Catherine Pichon, LEAP principal.

On Thursday, a handful of LEAP students went before a School Board meeting to show members what they’ve been up to.

I got the impression that if they hadn’t been so enthusiastic about the activities they’ve been doing, the kids would have had a much harder time addressing the board members in the very serious environment of the council chambers.

After reaching the halfway point, the LEAP program is plainly a success.