Summer learning and fun at Sullivan Apartments
Every day is an adventure at the new summer learning program at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments.
There are poetry and reading, neatly tied into a nature theme. There are days spent at the YMCA’s Camp Weber, where swimming and hiking blend in seamlessly with pond, forest and plant exploration and discovery. There are field trips to places like the ocean, nearby parks, and sometimes, to the movies.
It’s the kind of learning and play that make for rave reviews by the two dozen participants, whose summer learning program nearly got the axe this year.
“It’s really, really good,” said Mikey Santiago, age 10, who never misses a day of camp.
“Everything we do is fun, but the best part is the field trips. We go to a lot of different places. The most fun was the beach because we got to swim and build a bit fort that got flooded when the tide came in,” Mikey added.
The summer program at Sullivan is a collaborative effort by Talk/Read/Succeed!, the SHA, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, Boland Elementary School, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County and the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative. It serves to replace the T/R/S! summer learning program that had been run out of Boland the past few years, but was replaced by a new initiative there.
T/R/S! is a family-based program that includes two dozen local agencies and organizations aimed at boosting early literacy among children at Sullivan and Robinson Gardens Apartments with participation at their feeder public schools, Boland and Dorman. T/R/S! has included the HSLI-developed outdoor learning summer program at both schools until this year, when Boland opted out.
Sullivan camp Director Ebony Carattini said the outdoor learning component is alive and well at the new program at Sullivan, along with other offerings that make the experience special for all involved.
“We collaborated with HSLI, the school and all the participants to come up with something that’s all our own, and it’s working very well,” Carattini said. “It’s a good mixture of reading, learning about nature, and fun activities.”
HSLI Director Brian King agreed.
“I’m totally excited about it,” King said. “The team is so strong there. They’ve transformed the program into something that’s uniquely their own, with strong and supportive relationships, and a solid blend of academics and what we think of as the camp experience. The children love it.”
King said that as with the school-based HSLI programs, pre- and post-camp reading and literacy data are being gathered to see how children fare. Typically, children who participate either retain or gain reading skills, during the summer months when many children fall back academically.
The camp is open to children entering grades one through six. It runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting off most days with quiet reading time that features one-on-one sessions with literacy consultant Joanne Lanzillo-Epaul, who is a teacher at the Boland School.
Each week has a specific nature theme – one week it was ponds, another week insects — that threads through a poem that children memorize, ongoing readings, discussions and outdoor explorations.
Children go to Camp Weber on Mondays and Wednesdays, where swimming, hiking and outdoor learning are the focus. Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent at the Sullivan Community Center, with a blend of reading, learning and indoor and outdoor activities. Fridays are saved for field trips, to places including Hammonasett Beach in Connecticut, Goshen State Park and Stanley Park in Westfield.
Literacy specialist Lanzillo-Epaul said the blend of nature, literacy and fun is working well, and her relationship with the children will carry over at Boland during the upcoming academic year, and beyond.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “The students and learning, and they’re really responding. It’s such a good combination of learning and doing. When we’re not reading about the pond, we’re talking about the pond. And then we go to the pond and see it for ourselves.”
The best testimonies come from the children themselves, who are in complete agreement about this success story.
“I love coming here,” said 11-year-old Ariana Molina. “I like the activities and I get to know a lot of the kids who live here. I’ve made a lot of friends.”
She added, “We’re definitely learning a lot about reading. I know it’s going to help me when I go to the sixth grade.”
Brothers Jose and Isiah Hernandez also gave the camp top grades.
“It’s pretty good,” said Jose, who is 10. “I get to see all my friends, and we get to go on a lot of field trips. It’s never boring.”
Eight-year-old Isiah, better known as ‘Izzy,’ said he loves the weekly poems, and the days at Camp Weber.
“I like the puzzles too,” he added.
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