Before this summer, Hernan Castenada, 8, had never checked out a book at the public library. He’d never been on a ferry, or to the zoo or the aquarium.
That all changed with Summer Academy – a free program formed by five teachers at Hernan’s school, Sherwood Elementary – which has offered enriching activities and educational opportunities to students from low-income families who also are still learning English.
Hernan said his favorite part of the summer was standing on the front deck of a ferry, as it sailed away from Edmonds.
“We went to the wind and it was so strong,” the boy exclaimed. “And we saw, like, a big jelly fish.”
All of the 15 students who participate in Summer Academy live in an apartment complex across from the Campbell-Nelson Volkswagen dealership in Edmonds. During the year, the dealership hosts free English classes for adults.
“They’re our neighbors and we saw a need, so we got a hold of a couple teachers from the University Presbyterian Church to teach (English),” said Kurt Campbell, 46, owner of the dealership.
Then, a group of teachers at Sherwood – Anne Gregerson, Adria Brudvik, Kelly Fleming, Libby LeCompte and James Gibson – asked to host a summer program at the dealership for the children of those adult students.
“The praise needs to go out to these teachers. It’s pretty amazing that they’d give up their summers like that,” Campbell said.
Campbell donated the use of a conference room and a van to transport students on field trips.
The students, ages 5 to 12, have met Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. LeCompte also teaches preschool for 2- to 4-year-olds on Tuesdays.
Students practice reading, writing and math in small groups that target their individual skill levels.
They visit the Edmonds Library on Tuesdays, where they check out books and take part in library activities like read-alouds. Through the academy, 14 of the 15 students received their first library cards.
The students do art projects on Wednesdays, sometimes taught by volunteers. Bruce Mindt from Edmonds-Woodway High School gave the students a lesson in drama, teaching them to make animal noises. Kathy Mindt from Sherwood Elementary taught students to make collages, creating animals from magazine images.
Thursdays are set aside for field trips. Last week, students took a trip to Cascade Elite Gymnastics, whose employees let the group use the gym for free, then got free frozen yogurt from Revelations Yogurt in Edmonds.
Though these activities allow students to experience new things, the teachers want to incorporate learning, Gregerson explained. Instead of handing out cups to fill with frozen yogurt, the teachers let students earn the treat by answering questions like “What is the first sentence in a paragraph called?”
During each field trip, Gibson takes photos which are later added to a scrapbook where students write about their experiences.
Students recently went to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle where they got to feed an elephant and ride a carousel. Both the zoo and the Seattle Aquarium donated admission. The teachers have been covering the costs of other outings either on their own or with the donations they have received from Cline Jewelers in Edmonds and individual donors.
All of the students receive federally subsidized meals during the school year, so the summer program also provides a meal. So far, Brudvik has paid for lunches and snacks out-of-pocket.
The teachers are still discussing what the future holds for the program, but Brudvik said she would like to follow the students through high school.
“We just want to be advocates for them,” she said.
It can be difficult for parents who don’t understand English to help their children enroll in school activities, Gregerson said.
“If, when they get to high school, we can get them on that soccer team or help their parents sign that permission slip, it would be really rewarding,” she said.
The Summer Academy is independent from the Edmonds School District, so all funding for meals and activities comes from donations or the teachers themselves.
“We would love to be able to get the kids school supplies or send them back to school with a new pair of shoes,” Brudvik said.
Want to help?
To donate, contact Anne Gregerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.