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Summer Programs Keep Skills Sharp

Summer is time to hit the beach, the boardwalk — and, more than ever, the books. “A lot of student skills are still in a developmental stage and it’s great to keep a momentum going through the summer,” says educator Allison Kirshner, a teacher and director of the Enrichment Camp for K-8 students at The Philadelphia School.

“When students lose that momentum, teachers have to re-teach — and students have to re-learn — what they were on the cusp of at the end of the academic year,” she says. PreK-12 students can sharpen their academic skills and still mix in a good measure of fun at an array of summer camps.

Learning at Camp

Like those at other school-based and learning center summer programs, educators at Sylvan Learning Center in Deptford, NJ, train students who want to close learning gaps as well as students who want to keep their skills sharp.

With a focus on reading, writing, math and study skills, Sylvan offers themed camps for children up to grade 12. “It’s all about the positive,” says director and owner Natalie Norris. “No stress, no homework. We aim to re-inspire a love of learning so kids see that it’s a fun thing to do.”

Parent Regina Baime chose the five-week Language Arts Camp at The Benchmark School in her hometown of Media, PA, “initially because I had a really bright guy who was struggling with reading.” She says Benchmark’s camp, an academic program combined with recreational activities on the woodsy campus, offered the right combination to keep her middle schooler engaged in learning throughout the summer.

A small teacher-student ratio offers a recipe for success at academic summer camps for students with learning differences, says Kathy Wynn, associate director of admissions at Delaware Valley Friends School in Paoli, PA. DVFS provides one-on-one tutorials during its five-week, half-day summer program for students entering grades 6-12. Students, says Wynn, appreciate that the program “helps you learn, but gives you freedom in how you learn.”

Summer Enrichment

At independent schools in the region, summer enrichment programs offer an academic alternative to traditional summer camps.

Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, PA combines the educational with the entertaining. “A few years back we started to grow our program in academic areas,” says history teacher and summer camp director Rusty Regalbuto. “In exploring areas like rocketry, construction and chess, kids are using deductive reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills to keep their minds sharp. It’s tactile and experiential, and that makes it fun.” This summer, Abington Friends is expanding its program to include academic preparation for 8th grade math and for students entering 9th grade.

Similarly, Merion Mercy Academy in Merion, PA, offers an all-girls Summer Academy for students entering 8th grade to help the transition from elementary school to a college preparatory high school. Enrollment has doubled in the Summer Academy in recent years, says program director Kristina Stanton Cawley. “The students also have a lot of fun, make good friends and see what a day at Merion would be like for them,” she says.

Balanced Programs

Striking a balance between work and play is especially important in the summer months, says Kirshner.

“I think the best match for most kids would be a a program that has a balance of academic and fun,” she says. “It’s summertime and while kids should keep up with their skills, they need some downtime too. Enrichment programs allow kids to retain what they have learned when they have more mental space available, without requiring a full day of school.”

The Philadelphia School’s Enrichment Camp meets kids’ cravings for more science, art and athletics, offering a range of activities such as fishing along the Schuylkill River, digital photography and karate.

“The best thing to do is talk to parents of other campers who have been through the program they are considering,” says Regalbuto.

College Sampler

High school students can get a taste of college life through summer programs on area campuses. Some 650 students entering grades 3 to 12 converge on Penn State’s campus in Abington, PA each summer for “Kids College.” Programs include robotics, film, music, sports and reading skills.

“What makes our camps appealing is that we offer an academic experience,” says Deanna Bosley, youth programs coordinator at Penn State Abington. “High school students in particular are looking for a unique experience or an experience geared toward their specific interests.”

Students interested in engineering might choose one of the summer programs on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science welcomes students from middle schools and high schools around the U.S.

At Widener University in Chester, PA, a selective program called Aspire offers business experience for 25 high school students. Students, who have been selected for their GPA and contributions to their respective schools, launch their own businesses, work closely with Widener faculty members and take business-related field trips.

Collegiate summer camps, says Bosley, “get kids excited about going on to college and knowing there are options beyond high school.” Bosley encourages parents to discuss their kids’ interests with them, ask questions of camp officials and visit the camps they’re considering.

Jennifer Baldino Bonett is a local freelance writer.

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