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Melissa Gonzalez '16 works with first-graders at Summer LEAP

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  • 2016-10-06
  • Val Dimino

Brockport and City Schools Enhance Each Other's Learning

As they kicked off their six-week program at SUNY Brockport, State University of New York, this July, the students in each Summer LEAP class wrote up a charter to guide their behavior. As part of the process, students were asked to complete the sentence, “I want to feel ________.” Some of their answers included: Respected. Appreciated. Helped.

Summer LEAP (Learning Enrichment to Achieve Potential) addresses these emotional needs as much as academic needs. The program helps low-income families in the Rochester area close the achievement gap and prevent the summer learning loss often suffered by these children. Interwoven with traditional classroom lessons are conversations about ethics and morals, community service, self-esteem, and interpersonal skills.

Brockport Summer LEAP is one of 19 enrichment programs in the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association, including similar programs at the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, Monroe Community College, and SUNY Geneseo. The program at Brockport, which is in its third year, works specifically with children from Enrico Fermi School 17.

Each student who enters the program has a spot reserved the following year. The dropout rate is minimal, and fewer seats are available in the higher grades because so many students do come back. The Summer LEAP staff reports back to School 17 about each student’s progress. Building this cohort is an important part of changing the culture for 17, the lowest-performing school in the RCSD.

Diana Hernandez, the Summer LEAP consultant for Brockport, says she prefers not to call the program a school, nor a camp, but simply “summer learning.” This keeps the focus on the enrichment these students gain, during a time when otherwise they would lose about two months’ worth of prior knowledge, Ms. Hernandez said.

Summer LEAP makes a habit of reversing such statistics: its students demonstrate a 2-3 month gain in reading and math skills each summer. It is a particularly profound impact in a district where only 14 percent of children who enter kindergarten will graduate from high school — the lowest graduation rate among large districts in New York State. When students attend a summer learning program like LEAP for three or more years, more than 90 percent will graduate from high school, and 75 percent will continue on to higher education.

Dr. Thomas Hernandez, interim dean of the School of Education, Health, & Human Services, says he is proud of Brockport’s partnership with Summer LEAP because “it reaffirms our commitment not only to the importance of quality education, but to making a difference in our community.”

Reaching Students on Multiple Levels

The benefits of the summer learning experience extend far beyond the classroom walls. Students receive a balanced breakfast, lunch, and snack and learn about nutrition and cooking from the program’s personal chef. The staff also includes a literacy coach, a nurse, and a counselor. Physical activity and the arts are integral elements: gym time, dance class, horseback riding, hands-on art projects, music class. Arts team leader Annette Ramos helps the students create plays that reenact books they have read in class, coordinating with the art and music teachers. The students enjoy swimming in the College’s recently renovated James B. Fulton Natatorium — and for many of the students, this is where they first learn to swim. Acquiring such skills, Ms. Hernandez emphasized, increases the students’ overall confidence.

The LEAP teachers come from across the area; many are full-time teachers in the Rochester City School District during the regular academic year. There are two teachers per classroom, one with more experience partnered with one who is still learning. Brockport graduate students often intern with the program, including some from the Brockport Summer Literacy Institute, who tutor small groups of children whose struggles with reading interfere with their ability to make progress in school.

The program is bilingual throughout, with both English and Spanish wording on signs and incorporated into the lesson plans. Melissa Gonzalez ’16, who earned bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and childhood education in May and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in bilingual education at Brockport, worked with LEAP for the first time this summer, teaching a class of rising first-graders in both languages.

Gonzalez called the experience “great preparation on how to run a classroom,” grateful for the coaching that the co-teaching setup provided. She began teaching full time at School 17 this fall.

Deep Roots

The College’s partnership with School 17 extends back long before Summer LEAP came to Brockport. In the mid-1990s, Distinguished Service Professor Emerita Betsy Ann Balzano and colleagues began a Professional Practice School with 17, in which teacher candidates completed their field experiences there for two semesters, then continued in partnership with the same teacher for the first half of their student-teaching. This continuity fostered natural mentor relationships and close bonds.

The teamwork was beneficial for the teachers at School 17 as well. Balzano recalls one teacher saying, “It is valuable to look at teaching through a new teacher’s eyes.”

Brockport faculty members worked closely with all constituents and held weekly meetings with the teachers, and the teachers led seminars for the Brockport students in their tutelage. The student-teachers went on field trips into the Rochester community to expand their knowledge of the district, and they brought School 17 students to Brockport for an inside look at college life.

Post-graduation, many of the student-teachers were hired at 17. The principal there would get calls from other RCSD principals, inquiring — furthering the buzz that Brockport’s education graduates were garnering.

“It was a rich partnership for both the College and School 17,” said Balzano. Though the particulars of the programming may have changed over two decades, the ancestry of today’s strong connections is clear.

Brockport in the RCSD Today

A recent additional link in the chain between Brockport and the RCSD is Barbara Deane-Williams ’84, who became superintendent of Rochester schools in July. She earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from Brockport.

Deane-Williams is far from the only Brockport connection impacting Rochester schools. Tyler Jarosinski ’13, a Spanish teacher at World of Inquiry School 58 and current master’s degree student at Brockport, completed several field placements in the district. He credits those experiences as the foundation he needed to grow as a teacher.

“The tools and strategies learned in my observations and teaching experiences through Brockport have been tremendously helpful in finding success within the Rochester City School District,” Jarosinski said.

Aggie Seneway, college supervisor for field experience, sees the students’ work in the district as eye-opening, as they transition into the leadership role of teachers and see theory become reality.

“The College’s partnerships with the city school district have provided our students the opportunity to see the impact of poverty and family life on individual children,” Seneway said. “The city schools are very supportive of Brockport students, and I think it is because the city teachers can see the care our students have for teaching kids, not just content.”

Between the spring and fall 2016 semesters, 167 Brockport students have been placed in field experiences in the RCSD, equating to at least 5,850 hours of work, and 13 have been placed there as student-teachers, equating to 6,300 hours or more.

Dr. Hernandez sees this synergistic work as helping to “take the field of education further, to move the profession forward in exciting new ways.”

While the College’s partnerships with area schools continue to grow and prosper, Dr. Hernandez reminds us that this focus is, in many ways, nothing new for Brockport, as education programs are “the thread running through our work as an institution for nearly 200 years.”

Last Updated 7/29/21

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