Though summer is both far gone and a long way off, the summer programs in the Rockville Centre School District were a topic of discussion at the Dec. 11 Board of Education meeting. Trustees were updated on last summer’s program on the same day that this year’s dates were finalized.
“We’re really proud of this program,” said Noreen Leahy, assistant superintendent of pupil personnel services and special education. “It’s grown not just in numbers — the program is expanding in ways that not only address the interests of an increasingly diverse student population, but have also become very inclusive so that all students can participate.”
In recent years, Leahy said, programs have been initiated to support the needs of students who required additional remediation, as well as a state-approved summer program for specialized classes. “We’re always looking for ways to expand,” she said.
Leahy said she was proud of the “exceptional team” in place to lead the program, which includes Cristie Tursi, who ran the Regents remediation program; Keith Eckert, head of the pre-K program; and Chris Webster, the summer program principal.
“The summer program gives so much more to these kids,” Webster said. “When you walk through the schools, you see the smiles and the work that goes on. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Webster took over the program last summer, which had previously been run by Jim Duffy for four years, and said he was primarily responsible for the enrichment program at Hewitt Elementary School, which grew from 534 to 552 students.
“We’re getting to a point where we don’t know where we’re going to put them,” Webster said.
He said that each classroom had either an aide or an assistant, and that about 70 teenagers had been hired to help with the program, and there were 17 eighth-grade volunteers as well. “It was a community,” Webster said.
The cost of the pre-K and enrichment program is $400, and discounts are offered for those who sign up early. There is no charge for bridge and Regents repeater programs. The enrichment classes include cooking, yoga, basketball, art, writing, Dungeons & Dragons and an animal rescue team. Several teachers and students told the board how much they like the programs.
Stella Newhouse, a fourth-grader at Covert, has taken an art class called Perfectly Pinterest in the summer program for the last two years. “I really enjoy it because you get to make fun projects,” she said, showing off her flip-flops, tie-dye T-shirt and crayon crafts.
Jessica Whelan has taught a writing class for the past six years, which she said she enjoyed from the start. “The kids absolutely love the program,” Whelan said. “Kids come in with their preconceived notions that they either love writing or don’t, and by the end, they all love writing. I think when you take away the stigma, the fear and just show the love of reading and writing, give them opportunities to freely think . . . they learn to love writing.”
Fifth-grader Audrey Morrow has signed up for the class four years in a row, starting as a first-grader. “I like the way this class has enriched my writing process,” she said. “In the class, there is no such thing as mistakes, which allowed me to be creative and not worry about doing something wrong.”
Watson students soar to new heights
The theme at Watson Elementary School this year is “Soaring to New Heights,” and a group of students attended the school board meeting to explain the title and demonstrate what they have learned.
“We want everyone to be the best they can be,” the students told the audience, passing around a microphone. “We want to be able to solve problems independently and feel safe and comfortable at school and at home.”
Last June, the children explained, a group of third- and fourth-graders met with their teachers and had conversations about what makes them feel strong and secure — and how they handle problems, such as bullying or being excluded. These conversations became the basis for the lyrics of their song “Soaring to New Heights.”
“We want to let other kids get our message,” the children said, “to stand up for themselves, to be strong, to help others and to look toward a bright future.”
The students met several times to revise the lyrics to best explain the message, and met with music teacher Brianna Brickman to choose the melody. The group introduced the song to the rest of the school in September, and it was taught it to all students in music class.
The theme has carried into other school events, such as the evening of wellness and enrichment, and will be prominent at activities planned throughout the year, including assemblies to help students remember to make good choices. They will make calendars in art class to remind them to relax when they become stressed or upset.
The students’ catchy, positive tune earned a standing ovation from the audience.