SummerLEAP Opens New Doors for Rochester City School Children
SummerLEAP shows its students there is more to learning than reading and writing.
When seeing more than 100 children step off the bus outside Tuttle North, laughing and smiling with excitement, you may think they are heading to an amusement park. Instead, they are about to start their day at SummerLEAP at SUNY Brockport.
SummerLEAP (Learning Enrichment to Achieve Potential) is now in its sixth consecutive year at the College and its second year under Director Amy Shema. As part of the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association consortium, SummerLEAP aims to address the academic and socio-emotional needs of students from the Rochester City School District (grades K – 6) during the summer months in order to prevent the learning loss that most students face during that time.
When asked about their favorite part of SummerLEAP, many students mentioned “making friends” or “seeing my favorite teacher,” but just as many mentioned swimming, dancing, and reading. For a lot of them, SummerLEAP is more than learning. It represents structure, family, friendship, and opportunities they may not receive at their regular schools. The program has morphed from a simple place of summer learning into a tight knit community, even down to the kids' “favorite cook” — Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation’s Assistant Chef Jeffrie Pack.
“Many of our students call this their second home,” said kindergarten teacher Temeshia Gauthier. “What makes our program different is the love that emanates from everyone involved. The teachers, students, parents, and staff all help us thrive.”
According to Shema, SummerLEAP teachers use well-researched learning techniques and restorative practices to keep students engaged and willing to learn — with one goal in mind: always doing what is right for the kids.
“We use the program as an opportunity for the kids to see teaching and learning in a different light,” Shema said. “We believe in the power of education and hope to help the kids recognize how unique each of them are.”
SummerLEAP is distinguished from other programs because of its arts integration, an approach to teaching in which arts serve as a core method of learning and assessment. Most of the students don’t have the resources in their regular school to express their creativity through art, dance, or music. After taking over as director, Shema started a program-wide theme that leans on arts integration and culminates in a project the students share at the end of the program.
This year’s theme is games, and the program will end with everyone coming together to play the board games that each class has worked on over the last six weeks. Fifth graders Eemaja Stewart and Melvin Tejada are creating a Harry Potter themed board game that utilizes both of their favorite parts of learning: Eemaja created a decoder that uses math problems to find the names of the characters Melvin is drawing.
“A lot of programs don’t realize how art can influence a child’s learning,” said dance teacher Maddie O'Mara. “As an Arts for Children major at Brockport, the arts integration portion of the program really made me want to be a part of it.”
With more than 40 staff members and 17 interns from the College’s literacy education program, students and teachers gain the benefit of a personalized learning environment alongside the typical classroom.
Reed Sanchez has worked at SummerLEAP for three consecutive years and is now one of the literacy interns earning her master’s degree. Not only has she seen the students grow and flourish, but she has developed as an educator alongside them.
When it comes to students who often lack the resources to reach their potential, there is one thing Reed enjoys hearing from them the most.
“I often hear them say things like, ‘I can’t wait to come back here when I’m older,’ especially from our sixth-grade students,” Reed said. “Being on the Brockport campus is huge for the retention of our students.”