Summer is a time of enjoyment for youth. It is a break from the school routine and gives them the opportunity to garden, swim, participate in camp activities, and help their houseparents and fellow ranchers around the house.
However, for our kids it is also a season for learning. Youth, especially those who have been academically neglected, need additional assistance in the summer to keep their minds sharp for the upcoming school year. They also need activities that provide learning opportunities they would not have experienced in a traditional classroom.
Thanks to a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, we were able to give our residents these experiences. In July and August, the kids read two books and completed hands-on projects for each. In July, they read The Giver by Lois Lowry and designed their own utopian society. They learned about types of landmasses, government, currency, economies, cultural traditions, and foreign policies. In August, they read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and created a three-dimensional maze suitable for a mouse. They learned about geometry, abstract concepts, intelligence, famous historical figures, and the human brain.
In addition, they participated in Socratic discussions about moral dilemmas such as correct parenting practices, having experimental brain surgery, and the fairness, (and lack thereof,) of a perfect society. Some of these discussions became very lively, although they always remained respectful.
One of the most impressive accomplishments of the program was the increase in the writing abilities of the children. By submitting journal entries, (which were corrected and discussed,) the kids were able to improve their spelling, grammar, and use of complex sentences. On average, our kids improved their writing ability by 1.4 grade levels. That’s a lot to accomplish in only a few weeks!
Our residents also gained a new understanding of individuals with mental challenges. Many of them said they would be more tolerant of people with birth defects, mental illness, and developmental delays. It’s important that our youth be tolerant of others, and this program helped them broaden their perspectives of others.
As our kids returned to school, they were prepared with the new knowledge and skills that were taught this summer. We feel certain that this experience will help them improve their school performance during the following year. Hopefully, we’ll able to give them even more opportunities next year!