Summer LEAP versus Summer Slide

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The LEAP program focuses on literacy proficiency and enrichment experiences. After reading "Ned the Knitting Pirate", the students learned to knit. According to their teachers, they want more knitting time during school hours.

Article Contributed by
Joni Blackman

When you hear LEAP (Learning Enrichment & Academic Progress) Program Manager Michelle McDowell talk about the new Jamestown City District School summer program you realize right away why it is looking to be a success. Ms. McDowell, Chief Academic Officer for the District is enthusiastic about the strong, dedicated team that has come together to provide a nurturing and supportive place for our most vulnerable young students. While it is too soon to measure the program’s results, the attendance numbers are steady. The program has 430 registered elementary age students. The children and their families are continuing to make the effort to learn. Ms. McDowell thinks providing the families transportation support is key to keeping the attendance numbers stable, which has been a challenge in the past.

This new program was initiated by District Superintendent Bret Apthorpe, because of his deep concerns regarding the level of poverty that affects so many of the District’s students. According to Dr. Apthorpe, “70% of Jamestown’s students live in poverty and over 50% of our elementary students are not proficient in English Language Arts. The summer LEAP program is specifically structured to provide over 400 K-4 students with literacy instruction from their elementary teachers. Additionally they are provided two healthy meals and participate in physically and intellectually stimulating activities provided by Jamestown’s terrific community youth organizations. I believe this will help more kids become proficient in ELA as well as enhancing their social/emotional development.”

Knitting demonstration.

The Summer LEAP program runs from July 1 to August 25. It is a blend of the traditional summer day camps paired with an exciting reading program. For instance, Jen Conti, Fletcher Elementary School LEAP Camp Director said, “We are having tons of fun here at Fletcher LEAP. Our youngest kids had a hard time listening and adjusting to our schedule and sitting for story time at first. They were nervous and didn’t want to read. We are now half way through our program and they are blossoming. They are doing a great job of listening and focusing on the story. They are very proud of themselves when they get an answer correct and smile from ear to ear. When their teacher asks them to repeat the events we have hands raised with smiles on their faces eager to answer and hoping they get called on,” she continued, “ in our oldest bunk (classroom) when they entered the program they were sad that they had to come to school and that it was going to be boring. Now they are saying they love it and enjoy the stories. They tell me that they like the Pirate week here and the students read the book “Ned the Knitting Pirate”. Along with the lesson the children were taught how to knit by their teachers! The kids enjoyed it so much they keep asking for knitting time!”

Community partners and dedicated educators are the secret sauce of the program. The community partners range from
funding partners (R. C. Sheldon Foundation, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, Lenna Foundation, Promise Fund, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and the Cummins Foundation) that see the value in supporting our youngest residents.

To leadership partners (the Boys & Girls Club of Jamestown, the YMCA and the YWCA) that manage each site at the five elementary buildings in Jamestown and provide wrap around care .
To enrichment partners that bring the summer camp fun into the mixture.

The children are experiencing weekly field trips to learn about nature at the Audubon Community Nature Center and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Other field trips are planned for the Erie Zoo, Midway Park, and the Chautauqua County Fair. Campers are taking swimming and karate lessons, learning hands-on science through STEM activities, and discovering visual and performing arts with Infinity – all while retaining and building their literacy skills.

Fletcher Elementary School LEAP class.

Ms. McDowell is excited to see the outcomes that will be measured using the same benchmark assessments used throughout the regular school year. The summer program has had a strong start because the students and teachers already know each other. They can build on the previous school year’s successes and challenges. There is no interruption of services for the children.

The LEAP program educators are also using the same diagnostics they use during the school year to consistently support the students in making successful gains, keeping them on track. Teachers work with the students in small “like-skilled” groups using research-based strategies and assessments to support their literacy goals. Bush Elementary School teacher Jennifer Stendahl shared the following progress; “One of my rising fourth graders gained 5 sight words in three days by working on the pattern they follow. I account this to the relationship I have been able to build with him daily in a small group. He wants to come to LEAP and loves learning.”

What are the student’s reactions? “It’s tons of fun!” Congratulations to Jamestown’s Superintendent, Brett Apthorpe and his leadership team, for making his vision a reality. For bringing the resources and talents together to give our youngest citizens the tools they need to successfully graduate – and build on their dreams.