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Livingstone-based summer program keeps kids learning through summer

While some cling to the concept “if you build it, they will come,” 21st Century Community Learning Center facilitator James Davis this summer took the ideal a step further for the benefit of area learners.

His focus, he said, was on continuing to make the most of the time Rowan County elementary schoolers spent outside of the classroom, something he’d done throughout the 2018-19 school year with after-school academic programs at Hurley Elementary and Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter schools.

It was with eyes on an eight-week summer stretch outside of the classroom that Davis decided to turn the aforementioned phrase on its ear. If children would come for a summer program, he said, then he was confident the community would help provide the building blocks to make it a reality.

So he made flyers for the free, federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Center summer program, offered through the local Paul L. Dunbar Group. On them, he listed dates, times and the rest?

Well, the rest was “TBD” — to be decided — as the school year drew to a close.

Two weeks before the June 18 beginning of the 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday program, Davis said he got the call: Livingstone College President Jimmy R. Jenkins offered the school’s Ballard Hall.

“It was a relief,” said Davis. “I was expecting 20 kids to register. When 80 expressed interest, it had been really hectic trying to find a place with enough space to accommodate the vision I had.”

The vision was a full, classroom and instructional experience with learners separated according to their upcoming grade levels. With paid certified teachers serving as classroom leads, this provided the opportunity for a month of remediation and preliminary exposure to concepts waiting for the students in the coming school year.

“I really tried to give teachers the freedom to teach to their specialties and interests,” said Davis. “This really helped increase buy in.”

His only requirements, he said, were that lessons worked toward North Carolina standards, were engaging and hands-on.

And in kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms throughout Ballard Hall on Tuesday, students were doing just that: building towers with toothpicks and play-dough, crafting an amusement park out of popsicle sticks, creating Newton’s cradles and more.

But outside of explorations in physics and engineering, their were lessons in language arts, math, social studies, geology and more.

“It really is a full, traditional school day,” said Davis, “And the kids have elected to be here. They want to be here. Sometimes I can’t help them out of the car fast enough in the morning, or convince them to leave the classroom in the afternoon.”

For after-school lead instructor Melissa Miller, the key to this engagement lies in providing opportunities that many program enrollees would have never otherwise had.

“A lot of our students haven’t even had the opportunity to visit the mountains or beach, so the concept of either is foreign to them,” she said. “We’re working to get their hands on these concepts so they can really retain these things as they move on next year.”

Though the 21st Century Community Learning Center program receives federal funding, Davis said program facilitators are always seeking community partnerships and donations to provide further enrichment. The group has formed a strong partnership with K&W Cafeterias to provide daily meals for attendees, but other needs linger — funding for enriching field trips, for example.

“We’re always looking for more ways to help these students, more sites to serve,” said Davis. “An extra school won’t hurt me, but it will help a kid.”

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