Five unicorns went to the library. Three more arrived.
Four pieces were on board, and two fell into the swamp.
The rising first-graders at St. Louis Catholic Academy did the math — eight unicorns in the card game and two pieces in the Sum Swamp board game. “Way to go! Good job!” the teacher, Emily Castillo, told the students.
It’s mid-June, and the students are enjoying an opportunity to continue learning in a three-week enrichment program at the school, made possible through funding from donors to the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation. Rising fourth-grader Morgan Akins, who wrote a story about being a superhero who went back in time to stop an earthquake, called the classes “cool and magical.”
The program is offered free to incoming kindergarten through fifth-grade students enrolled at St. Louis Catholic Academy and St. Cecilia School & Academy for the 2021-22 school year. An existing partnership at the two archdiocesan schools in St. Louis City provides summer learning for sixth to eighth grades through Access Academy.
Approximately 85% of the students at St. Cecilia and 70% of the students at St. Louis Catholic Academy are participating.
Emily Roth, principal of St. Cecilia School and Academy, said the summer program fits into the school’s theme this past school year, “A Community of Resilience.”
Thanks to the donors, students have embraced the opportunity to fill a need for extra learning, social and emotional development, faith development, fun and relationships. The three extra weeks of summer school is “a wonderful gift for our students and our families and is providing a stronger academic foundation for students as they enter the academic year in the fall,” she stated.
Incoming kindergartners are taking part and are taught by the same teachers they’ll have in the fall, allowing informal assessments and relationship-building by the staff. The classes are lowering students’ anxieties and increasing familiarity as they get used to the routine of getting in line, sitting and listening to a story and eating lunch at school, for example.
Other students will be in the classrooms they’ll be in this fall, many of them taught in the summer class by their new teachers. The focus in the morning is on literacy and math, sometimes through individualized personal digital programs and small groups. The afternoon includes a vacation Bible school, team building, arts and movement.
Sandra Morton, principal of St. Louis Catholic Academy, calls the program an extended school year. This year’s theme is superheroes. Students are grouped by academic level rather than by grade. This is the first in-school extended year program for the younger students. Alums of the school and two schools who merged with it, now high school students, volunteer with the program.
James Townsend, a rising junior at Christian Brothers College High School, enjoyed helping, especially with math since he struggled with that subject when he was a student at the academy. He appreciated the individual attention he received from teachers, thanks to the school’s smaller class sizes.
Other volunteers came from St. Clement of Rome Parish. Dede Pitts, who volunteered once a week at the school prior to COVID-19 restrictions, appreciated being on the campus once again. “It’s an excellent opportunity for the children,” she said. “I love that they let us help and be a part of these kids’ lives. It brings so much joy to me. They are good, loving, smart and capable. To help them see that in themselves is great.”
For two of the weeks after the morning program, students take part in a vacation Bible school with prayer, readings and much more. The other week has other activities, including a field trip.
Pete Cerone, senior director of advancement for the Today and Tomorrow Foundation, said “we’re also grateful for the amount of support we get during the school year for programs like this to ensure students have extra time and educational resources. This would not be possible without the generosity of those who are invested in our mission.”
‘A leg up’
Elsewhere, Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant received donations to offer a Little Spartan Academy for incoming kindergarteners the week of June 14 to jumpstart their learning, faith and friendships. The funds also provide for an enrichment program, the Spartan Summer Academy from June 21-July 2, for first-through eighth-grade Sacred Heart students.
Sacred Heart Principal Chris Masterson said the two-week, half-day program stresses fundamentals in math and reading as well as faith formation. “We’re giving kids a little bit of a leg up but also help address anything that might have created a learning gap the last year because of COVID,” he said. “This was open to every one of our Sacred Heart students. It didn’t matter what their academic needs, challenges or positives are.”
About a third of the students, more than 110, will participate. A gift from Bob Unnerstall of National Cart Co. and some smaller donations funded the program.
>> High school
St. Mary’s High School’s freshman bridge program is taking on extra importance this year because of COVID-19 restrictions the past school year that especially affected incoming students who attended public and charter grade schools that had virtual classes most of the year.
The summer program June 14 to July 1 at St. Mary’s is comprised of three courses designed to assist students with sharpening their skills needed for a successful high school experience.
Study skills, language arts and math are the focus of the program four mornings a week.
“It’s such an important program for transitioning to high school, alleviating some of the worries and fears students may have coming in,” said Valerie Todd, St. Mary’s principal.
By the beginning of school in August, the freshmen who attend already are acclimated.
Last year, the program was cancelled because of the restrictions, and the school staff saw a difference in how students approached the new school year, Todd said. “This year it’s ever more important because of what many of the students didn’t receive this past year as far as in-person instruction,” she said. “The bridge program will especially help those students who haven’t been in school to get back in the groove of being in-person.”
St. Mary’s and most of the Catholic schools were in-person most of the last school year.
The teachers who staff the summer program get an advanced look at where students stand academically and where they might need additional support. St. Mary’s supports students with various levels of needs and a learning consultant helps teachers support students who struggle and those who excel.
St. Mary’s is among a few other Catholic high schools also offer programs for incoming freshmen.
>> Faith and fun
Christy Toben aimed for faith and fun in the afternoon portion of St. Louis Catholic Academy’s enrichment program this month.
Toben is the coordinator of religion at the school in St. Louis, and she led the vacation Bible school with songs, Bible stories, games, stories of saints and prayer. The theme was care for God’s creation.
The students also kept learning about Scripture through a craft activity.
Toben aimed to help students bring faith into their home where they could continue the conversation. An example was the Bible story of the mustard seed. Students were given a necklace with a mustard seed. “They were encouraged to go home and explain what the story of the mustard seed was and what they were going to do with their mustard seed faith,” she said.
They used recycled materials to create a container with Scripture passages to take home “so they could continue hearing God’s word even when we’re apart,” the educator said.
Students also decorated reusable canvas bags to use instead of disposaable plastic or paper bags.
“When we read the creation story from Genesis 1, we talked about the beauty of creation and creation as a gift, how when we respect the giver, God, we also respect the gifts that followed creation,” Toben said.