Soon-to-be fifth graders Amaree James, Jerreh Saidykhan and Jordan Steffen dug for a buried clue in the dusty dirt of Meadowlawn Elementary School’s baseball diamond during Kentwood Public Schools’ ARCH summer program’s scavenger hunt. Around them, classmates searched the playground for jars, matchbox cars, pencils and even sneakers, all items on the list of treasures.
Inside the school, students twisted T-shirts, tying them tight with rubber bands before dipping them into buckets filled with brightly hued water to create tie-dye patterns. Other groups made bookmarks with paper and markers and polished off lunch.
The district’s 1,116 students enrolled in the six-week enrichment program are beefing up their knowledge before heading back to school in September and having a good time doing it. The “fun stuff” followed a morning of academics including math, reading, writing and science.
“The stuff I didn’t learn and understand in school they teach us here,” said Amaree. “Now when I go back to school I get to do the things more easily.”
The ARCH program, which stands for Academics, Recreation, Community and Health, combines summer fun with class time to reach Kentwood students and keep them busy and learning during the months when proficiency levels can easily slide backward.
“The entire intent is to address the gap in learning students experience and get them caught up,” said Michael Pickard, executive director of elementary instruction and federal programs for Kentwood Public Schools.
Academic gains are most evident in reading, he said.
“Just in the summer months last year, some students made gains of three to four months (in grade-level reading proficiency) after attending summer school and ARCH,” Pickard said.
Academics, Field Trips and Fun
Students start each morning with two hours of regular summer school, funded by federal and state grants for at-risk students, which rolls into ARCH: another hour of academics, followed by lunch and afternoon enrichment activities or field trips run and funded by a federal grant.
“My focus is to broaden their horizons,” said Andrew Judson, site coordinator at Meadowlawn Elementary School, where about 50 students attend the program.
During the school year, ARCH runs as an after-school program Monday through Thursday. Field trips and activities. Clubs within the ARCH program include Photography, CSI and Cooking Club.
The program, in its sixth year, recently expanded to five new Kentwood Public School sites for a total of 15 sites. It now operates at all elementary, middle school, and at East Kentwood High School and Crossroads Alternative High School. Four to six staff members operate out of each site.
Previously funded through grant money that expired in June, Kentwood Public Schools recently received funding to allow the program to continue and expand. The 21st Century Community Learning Center grants–$2.25 million is earmarked through next year– allocated by Michigan Department of Education, flow from the U.S. Department of Education to the states. New sites include Discovery, Challenger, Explorer and Endeavor elementary schools and Pinewood Middle School.
“They get the academic hours but get the enrichment things as well,” Pickard said. “These are the students that learn differently, who have different learning styles. They enjoy it, even though it’s 80 degrees and sunny.”
Students said ARCH gives them the chance to take field trips to Frederik Meijer Garden, area parks, a recycling center, Grand Rapids Public Museum and Craig’s Cruisers, places many of them haven’t been before. Several students who have recently immigrated to the United States and attend the district’s English as a Second Language Newcomers Centers at Crestwood Middle and Meadowlawn Elementary schools participate in the program.
“In the summer we try to make it like a summer camp,” said Assistant Project Director Becki Barrenger, rattling off activities that engage the students including pottery, music, dance fitness, and science activities taught by local professionals.
“They do fun stuff and they care for us and make sure we are always safe,” said Rayvin Glover, a third grader. They make it easier for us to understand and if we need help they will help us in different ways.”