Eleven year-old Aryana James might be spending her summer in school, but has no complaints.
“It’s fun – the activities that we do and the field trips and the work that we do,” said Aryana, a rising sixth grader at Mineral Springs Middle School. “The people here are nice. They work with us.”
Aryana is one of more 1,700 students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system that are devoting the bulk of their summer break to learning and enrichment as part of the BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) summer learning program. The program, presented jointly by the school system and BELL, a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit, is offered free of charge to students – or scholars as the program refers to them – who need a little extra support to reach their academic goals. Open to scholars in grades K-8, the program, which was offered in Forsyth County for the first time last year, fuses academic programming with field trips and enrichment opportunities to combat summer learning loss.
“With the BELL program, they are very much into teaching the whole child and making sure that they have everything that they need to be successful in life, and I think the enrichment activities that we have kind of reinforce that,” commented Rita Moore McPhatter, an assistant principal at Caleb’s Creek Elementary and the program manager at Cash Elementary, one of the county’s six BELL sites. “…When they’ve actually been there and experienced that, I think it just makes learning a whole lot better for them.”
McPhatter, who helmed the program at Hall-Woodward Elementary last year, won national recognition for her leadership in the program. The Bennett College alumna was one of three recipients of the program’s 2012 Peterkin Education Leadership Award. The longtime educator said she believes wholeheartedly in BELL’s approach to supporting children and education.
“What BELL stands for in terms of helping children achieve all they can achieve is wonderful,” she remarked. “…I enjoy the experience of being able to interact with the children and spend time with them and talk to the families and help them grow, because that’s our ultimate goal. We want them to be successful.”
Scholars in the BELL program tackle academics such as reading and math in the morning, and participate in a variety of enrichment opportunities – from Legos and robotics, to art, Spanish and healthy living – in the afternoon. Drama teacher Gina Hill led her students in grades 3-5 in an animated game of charades at the school on Tuesday. Hill, who teaches reading and writing to fifth graders at Caleb Creek during the year, said she couldn’t wait to come back to BELL.
“Last year, I was blessed to be a part of this program and it was such a great program, the kids learned so much,” said the UNC Greensboro alumna. “…I just think it’s the best program I’ve ever been involved with or seen because of the positivity that it has in their values and beliefs.”
Cash, which is home to 196 children in grades K-5 this summer, also offers a daily Academic Support Group, where enrichment teachers work with students who need additional help in a given subject. Each week is punctuated with a field trip.
For seven year-old Nydia Coppola, the highlight of the day Tuesday was drama class. She and her classmates in Kayla Lawson’s K-2 drama class acted out scenes from “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. Nydia, a rising second grader at Sedge Garden Elementary, got to play the main character, Max.
“I had to try to be like ‘unscareful,’” related Nydia, whose twin sister Carolina is also in the program this year. “It’s really good because you actually get to do everything that’s in the story. I like … that we get to learn some new things and we also get to play it out.”
Akhi Freeman, a rising fifth grader at Walkertown Elementary, gave the BELL program in its entirety high marks.
“It’s really good. I like it. I like how the teacher teaches you and I like how we can go on field trips every week,” commented the 10 year-old. “I like everything about it.”
Akhi happily reported that his math skills have also improved as a result of the program.
“They help me with math because I was having a little hard time with that,” he said. “…Today, I was able to do my first really, really hard math problem. It makes me feel great and happy.”
Though some children might lament the prospect of spending the summer indoors learning, Akhi said he doesn’t mind at all.
“I’m okay with coming here because it’s helping me learn,” he remarked. “It’s like a camp to me.”
For more information about BELL, visit www.experiencebell.org.