At first glance, the children inside New Directions on Main Street in Frostburg appear to be engaged in typical day camp activities. A group of seven-to-ten year olds busily colors patterned papers at a large table. Beyond them, a younger group colors with a counselor's help at a smaller table. While the children are engaged in their Arts and Crafts activities, other counselors come by to admire their work, answer questions, confer with each other and tidy up.
But some of the AmeriCorps patches on two of the counselors' bright green shirts hint that this is not a day camp. In this case, they indicate that these individuals are *VISTA workers for the Summer Associates Program, a literacy and character education program. All are either attending and/or graduates of Frostburg State University. Team leaders and FSU alumni Jimmie and Crystal Blackwell Brown bring two years' experience as Summer Associates in Baltimore to the Frostburg program.
As part of the Read to Succeed and Character Kids! Projects, this summer program focuses on literacy and character education. The staff hopes to raise children's reading scores by at least 15 percent, according to *VISTA leader Courtney Thomas, who oversees the program. She thinks they will exceed that goal. And through games and activities, the children are learning the six pillars of character - trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The counselors also discuss the character traits during the children's reading periods
For eight weeks, the 30 children registered in the program meet Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their ages range from five to ten years. To qualify, the children must come from economically disadvantaged homes or have learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Their parents must complete a five-page application and consent to pre- and post-program testing. In addition, they must provide daily lunches for their children, plus a snack for 30 children once every three weeks.
Competition was strong for program openings and for *VISTA positions. In response to extensive advertising and referrals from the Allegany Board of Education, about 50 children applied for the 30 spots. Funding for the program comes from the Corporation for National Service.
Each day is packed with activities. The morning begins with an "energizer" and then weather observations, complete with chart and weather symbols. Next comes reading; the children break up into six reading groups. Snack time follows, with more reading and related activities, such as Scrabble and Word Bingo. Then the children divide into two groups by age. One does Show and Tell while the other visits the Frostburg Public Library, just a few doors down from New Directions. Lunch and free playtime follow, and then the two groups reverse the previous activities. Then all children gather for character education or math activities. The day concludes with free time for watching videos, reading or listening to tapes, then the ever-popular snack and finally, quiet time.
Other activities include a weekly field trip and special guests. So far, the children have learned about fire safety and listened to "celebrated readers."
Managing a group of rambunctious children for eight hours every day is no easy task. The staff uses a behavioral approach of rewards and punishments, with a chart that tracks each child's behavior for a given day. Every morning, all children begin with a green smiley face. If reprimanded more than once, a child receives a yellow face. If the child continues to misbehave, he or she gets a red face and may end up in the time out area. Two red faces per week mean no field trip that week. So far, nobody has lost a field trip.
No matter how their child is behaving, parents are informed about their children's behavior and progress. The staff encourages parental feedback and participation, and welcomes visits.
So what do the kids think of the program? "It's not bad," says Nathan. Chad from Gilmore says, "I like to play kickball best." They take pride in their own library cards, which they wave around before heading to the library for reading and checking out books. Snack time is popular, too; "It seems like they're always eating," Thomas comments.
An atmosphere of mutual respect prevails as the children move from one activity to another.
"This is a really good group of kids, " Thomas says. In the library reading room, *VISTA worker Mr. Dennis reads "Budgie Goes to Sea" to his reading group. He actively engages the children by asking questions, showing them illustrations and prompting them to predict the story's outcome. Meanwhile, a child seizes the opportunity to slip into another's seat. The original occupant returns and confronts the interloper with hands on hips and a deep scowl.
His friend shrugs and returns to his seat. In moments, both are caught up again in the story.
Thomas is clearly ambitious for the program. Eventually she hopes to expand it to an after-school program. "I want it to be the best program in Delaware and Maryland," she says.
For more information, contact Thomas at the AmeriCorps Office, 20 Braddock St, Frostburg, 301-687-7599.
For further information on this release, contact:
Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303