Learning Center Helps Students Keep School Skills Fresh over Summer

Nora Yarrington held Cheyenne on her lap, as the 5-year-old slowly traced over the number zero with her finger on a tablet computer.

“For her to pay attention this long on one subject is huge,” Yarrington said of her daughter, who has autism.  

All around them, other children played board games and chattered inside the small clubhouse. Getting Cheyenne accustomed to that level of activity, in preparation for kindergarten this fall, was one reason Yarrington enrolled her in the Hillview Learning Center in Rockford.

♥“I wanted to get her used to hearing all the noise,” said Yarrington, noting Cheyenne attended a small preschool. “She’s doing way better than I thought she would.”

Other parents have found good summer learning and play experiences for their children at the Learning Center, located in the Hillview Townhouses subsidized housing complex. The center recently wrapped up its fourth year of serving students there, many of whom are considered at risk of doing poorly in school.

Running for eight weeks, the program deploys specialists in reading and math to oversee about 20 students four mornings a week, with up to 40 attending at some point. Learning activities and engaging games help students stay on track academically while having fun, organizers say.

“When they start the day in a positive way, it seems to last the rest of the day,” said Kathy Munger, a reading specialist at Meadow Ridge Elementary School who heads the program.

D.J. Brimm, with the help of Bre Bowen, performs a reader’s theater skit at the closing celebration Games, Quizzes and Hugs

Most of Hillview’s elementary-age children attend Meadow Ridge, bringing with them a host of needs. As a teacher for at-risk students, Munger had long wanted to start a center to give them extra help during the summer. A contribution from Rockford Rotary helped jump-start it. The center is now funded by Rockford Public Schools and a Meadow Ridge family foundation. The Rockford Education Foundation paid for iPads.

Meadow Ridge math specialist Shawna Huls and librarian Lynn Bowen lead the teaching, assisted by paid aides and volunteers. Huls helped students learn their numbers and computations with games and timed tests, which measure their progress from spring to fall. Bowen had students read with adults, play vocabulary games and prep for reader’s theater presentations on the final day.

Amy Strimboulas has seen the difference in her son David, a fourth-grader, who along with younger brother Ethan was honored for good attendance at the last day’s celebration.

“His reading has improved incredibly,” Strimboulas said, holding her newborn at the Hillview park pavilion where students feasted on hot dogs. “It’s something that’s awesome to keep their minds going all summer long, especially for those of us who are busy parents.”

Nora Yarrington helps her daughter Cheyenne match shapes on an iPadOn the last day, David and others played classic board games like Sorry, Rummikub and Chutes and Ladders in the clubhouse classroom. Deanna Magoon and Madison Zamarripa, Meadow Ridge third-graders, squared off in Monopoly with volunteer Emily DeWitte.

“I learned plus and minuses” over the summer, Madison proclaimed. “I learned making a hundred,” Deanna chipped in.

Many students also learn to trust their teachers more, as relationships built over the summer carry into the school year. Said Munger, “Some of the tough kids we have a hard time reaching, you come on their turf and they want hugs.”

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Meadow Ridge Elementary School

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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