By Alisa Mitchell
What’s been the hottest ticket in town this summer? For young students and their families, it just might be Sarasota County Schools’ Summer Learning Academies.
“My kids were begging me to let them come this year,” says one Alta Vista mom, when asked if her children were excited to attend Summer Learning Academies.
A program initially conceived by philanthropists Joe and Mary Kay Henson, in partnership with Alta Vista Elementary and eventually the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Summer Learning Academies take place at Title 1 elementary schools during the months of June and July. Targeted to rising kindergarteners through third and in some cases fourth graders, the goal is to reduce summer learning loss and offer enrichment activities to children who might not otherwise be able to participate.
“I really liked it. It was fun,” shares a fifth grader with a big smile. Adds her mom, “She was sad this year because she was too old to go!”
Fun is the right word. Whether the students use mini-catapults to test theories like force and gravity, build robotic tadpoles that turned into frogs, or create theatrical tableaus from a favorite storybook, Summer Learning Academies create rewarding, and enjoyable, learning experiences.
Teachers are also a big fan.
“I can absolutely see a difference, especially with the kindergartners. They’re just so prepared when school starts,” one teacher says, discussing the benefits of students having time on campus before the school year starts in August.
Numerous local non-profits provide wonderful enrichment to the academic content. The Van Wezel Foundation, The Circus Arts Conservatory and Ringling College of Art & Design are just a few of the dozens of organizations that provide hands-on learning experience to the students during the summer. Students also enjoy field trips to the library, museum, theater and planetarium.
It’s a remarkable community effort to help ensure that every child in Sarasota has the summer support they need to succeed in school. And if, along the way, students learn to love robotics and reading and science and art, well, that’s a benefit that stays around long after summer has ended.