Soaking up knowledge: Summer program keeps kids learning

A jovial group of second-graders read their books inside a cushion-filled bath tub at the Englewood Public Library, one of several sites that hosted Englewood Public School District’s new Community Based Summer Assignments Program this summer.


Thanks to an innovative and enjoyable Englewood Public School District program, summer has become a time when youngsters love to learn.

Every June, the district sends all students assignments for them to do over the summer. But this year, the students were able to attend different sites around the community where they could receive help with their assignments from top-notch teachers, and it was a wonderful boost.

The new Englewood Public School District Community Based Summer Assignments Program was created through a collaboration between Superintendent Robert Kravitz and administrators and teacher coaches from all of the Englewood schools.

“A huge number of people used their expertise and reached out to their resources in the community to create this program,” said Grieco School Vice Principal Abraham Alarcon, program supervisor.

The six-week program is free and open to students in first through eighth grade. It was designed to offer free instruction in a variety of subjects to help students develop and build their skills and knowledge.

Dismus Middle School Principal Lamarr Thomas, a key figure in the development of the program, said it shows the district is being proactive.

“We don’t want to wait until a student is struggling or falls behind,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure that the learning gains that they made in school are not lost in the summer.”

There were four sites in this year’s program where students could meet with a team of 14 teachers, starting each morning at 8 or 9 a.m. and finishing at 4 or 6 p.m.

Each session was one to two hours in length, and students could attend sessions as many days as they wanted. Some students enjoyed the program so much that they came almost every day throughout the entire program.

The program “is a beautiful extension of the school district into our community,” said Thomas.

Summer curriculum for students included age-appropriate assignments in science, math, social studies and English language arts.

Students picked three options in each subject that they wanted to do or needed help in.

The assignments combined learning with fun and creativity. For example, the packet for second-graders included “Bug Catcher,” in which students were asked to create a device that traps or catches bugs; “Float Your Voat,” which involved creating a boat, raft or floating toy that can be used in a pool; and “Make Some Noise,” which required students to create a musical instrument or noise maker.

To facilitate the learning experience, the school district had purchased grade level books and other materials and distributed them to the students. The sites also donated the use of their resources.

The Englewood Public Library welcomed students to use their equipment and decorative furniture, such as a large cushion-filled bath tub in which groups of second-graders read books. The program also motivated parents to get library cards, so that they and their children could continue using the library’s valuable resources, such as computers, throughout the year.

The Grieco School also allowed students to use the computers in its media center. This was especially important for students in the upper grades that were researching current information on topics such as New Jersey’s state government.

In addition to the tutoring at the four sites, students also had work to do at home.

The students who came to the final session of the program on Aug. 3 with completed assignments received special certificates.

Delilah, Halyna, and Alissa are reading as well as learning math and coloring with Grieco Elementary School teacher Mrs. Leahy.

In September, the kids that completed all their chosen assignments can submit them to their homeroom teacher to receive school credits.

Even though the program is new, it quickly gained momentum.

“The response has been amazing,” said Alarcon. “The first week alone, we had 430 students! Even children who were enrolled in camp came by afterwards for afternoon sessions. The kids loved it, and the parents are grateful that their children are receiving personalized tutoring that would usually cost a lot of money.”

John Arthur, the Englewood Public Library director, is pleased that the library was chosen as one of the venues for the program.

“It’s a great partnership between the public library and the public schools, and it’s a pleasure to see how many children are utilizing the school system offerings and the library’s facilities.”

Some of the sites are already thinking about extending the program throughout the year.

“I love this program because it really goes out into the community,” said Margaret DeLuca, a McCloud School teacher. “I like working with the large variety of grade levels and age groups. Also, because there are so many teachers in the program, including special ed and bilingual teachers, students with specific needs can work with teachers who have specialized training in that field.”

Robert Drzymala, the father of an 8-year-old, is one of many parents who are delighted with the effort.

“This program challenged my son, and he really liked it,” said Drzymala. “It is wonderful to see that the Englewood School District is really trying to raise its students’ level of scholastic achievement and ensure the success of our children.”

Photo by Hillary Viders