Shalom Partnership of Lancaster, Inc. - Press

Hatching ambition
Shalom summer program enriches kids, changes lives
Sunday News
Staff Writer

Alysha Wright stood at a classroom table littered with yellow folders and children's books.

Sporting pigtails, a gray headband and new gray Nike high-tops to match, the 9-year-old read her definition of the word "equator."

Reading teacher Tracey Garrett helped her with the pronunciation of challenging words and kept the other students' attention focused on her.

Wright finished with a flourish bowing to her friends, who clapped and giggled and returned to her chair.

One word down, six more to go on Garrett's vocabulary list.

Located at St. Paul's United Methodist Church at West Farnum and South Queen streets, this branch of the Shalom Summer Enrichment Program one of three in Lancaster city welcomes most of its students from southeastern Lancaster and furthers their education in math and reading.

The program is sponsored by Shalom Partnership of Lancaster Inc., which raises funds all year to support the $25,000 program catering to kids in third, fourth and fifth grades. "We cover all of that," said Bob Hannum, Shalom Partnership board chairman, "even the costs for certified teachers" and field trips to the North Museum of Natural History and Central Market.

Donations come from local organizations, including banks and churches. All the program branches, including those at Otterbein and Covenant United Methodist churches, also ask for a donation of $10 per child if the family can afford it.

Science, ESL offered
The Otterbein site addresses the needs of advanced or highly proficient students. Select fourth- and fifth-graders from Ross Elementary School were invited to participate.

"Just because they're smart doesn't mean they don't need enrichment, too," said Rebecca Anderson, one of two teachers at Otterbein and a full-time employee at Ross.

Unlike its sister programs, the Otterbein program incorporates a science component, focusing on embryology specifically the development of a chicken. Eighteen students watched the eggs from incubator to hatching, and now the chicks are big enough to play with.

The children, sprawled across carpets and tables on one recent morning, worked hard and enjoyed learning during the two-week session, Anderson said.

"I love that I can give them a job and they just attack," she said. "Everybody here is working on confidence in their academics or is already there."

"There's a sense of ownership when students can ask each other for the answers, instead of the teacher."

Students at the Covenant site feel the same way about the English as a Second Language program.

"They all help each other," teacher Valerie Kohler said. "And when they get the answer, most let out a 'yes,' " she said, emphasizing the s. "It's like this silent cheer."

Kohler and co-teacher Amy Stathopulos said they're learning from the kids too, especially when it comes to languages like Nepalese.

Many students in the Covenant program recently moved with their families to the U.S. from Nepal, Burma and Ethiopia. The program provides most of them with their only exposure to English, other than at school.

As Hannum sees it, "These kids are everybody's responsibility."

Changing lives
On the other side of town, Tracey Garrett gathers up her seven students, including Alysha Wright, and joins the rest of the class heading downstairs for snack time and a story with Janet Dick, Shalom program director at St. Paul's.

"It brings about a sense of community for these students," Dick said. "Plus, then it's not all work."

Children are tested at the beginning and end of the program to show whether they've improved in math and reading, and to help the program earn financial help in the future, Dick said.

Now operating for 12 years, the program has shown results, boosting most students' grades about one letter over the session period.

For students, the program provides a fun morning and a chance to further their dreams.

"I want to be a doctor, or maybe a brain surgeon," Alysha Wright said.

Her friend Angel Tenneh, eyeing a visitor, asked sarcastically: "Who would want to write all the time?"

"I like math," the 9-year-old said. "It's the best."

Students like Alysha and Angel are what keep School District of Lancaster reading tutor Tracey Garrett's day exciting.

The summer program granted her a new opportunity: a chance to change these children's lives, she said. "This is the reward for me," Garrett said. "The kids who do feel confident and who believe in themselves against all odds."

"If anybody needs a chance, it's these kids."

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