The librarian knows. They always know everything. They know everything that goes on at a school. Librarian Jenn Mahoney called me because she knew. She knew I would want to tell my readers about the wonderful summer program at Maryland Elementary. It started in June and continues until July 31st.
With support from many community volunteers, this 7 year old school is offering children and families at Maryland Elementary a very special summer academy. Held every Monday through Friday from 11:00 to 1:00 pm it involves anywhere from 67 to 90 parents and kids. Dubbed “The Healthy Living Summer Academy”, it is designed to provide the children and their parents, a safe, nurturing place to have a nutritious lunch meal with opportunities to learn and grow as a family.
Very alarming statistics show that nationwide, less than 2% of school age children, who are eligible for free lunch, actually participate in a free summer lunch program. Not that long ago this was a reality at Maryland Elementary. Many factors contributed to this low participation rate at local school sites like Maryland:
- Children were being offered the nutritious summer lunch, but the adults escorting the children were not able to receive lunch since the funding is only for children.
- There were no school personnel available to allow the children to have even free play on the field around the lunch hour or access to bathrooms.
- There were no activities of interest or ways to sustain academic growth for parents or children.
During the past 12 months, school officials, parents, community agencies and faith community leaders have worked as a team to develop the Healthy Living Summer Academy. Now they provide lunch for the children ages 1-18 and nutritious snacks for parents who participate in the parent component of the seven week program for children and families. This is being done at no cost to the parents and it addresses the needs stated above.
My wife and I arrived at 11:30 on Thursday, July 22, to see this program first hand and meet some of the participants. The first person we met was Sue Bently, a remarkable woman with outstanding educational credentials. Sue is volunteering after retiring from an administrative position with the Carlsbad School District. After talking with other volunteers I discovered that if Sue is your neighbor, your friend, or if she attends your church you will most likely end up as a volunteer here at Maryland Elementary (or some other place she volunteers at.)
Sue introduced us to Noelia Luna, a Vista High School student who helps coordinate the daily activities with charts she prepares for students and adults. Next we met Irma Amezcua, another volunteer with only 39 years of education experience. According to Sue this program could not happen without Irma. Irma introduced us to the school Principal, Carol La Breche who was sporting a black walking cast and a pair of crutches. Carol informed us that she recently broke her ankle while ice skating at the new Icetown Carlsbad. Principal Carol in turn led us to Kim Stephens-Doll, Susana Torrico, Liliana Munoz, Alicia Skow, Wan, Linda Gabney and Vince Vargas. These volunteers are just some of the wonderful people that are making a big difference this summer at Maryland Elementary.
Everyone we met was a big contributor to the success we saw taking place and everyone was offering the credit to someone else. They are working as a team. They are collaborating day-to-day to make sure that the parents and the kids have a good experience. Carol is by title the leader and she certainly has the vision. Following the School District’s “Blueprint for Excellence” she is intent on building a strong support base of parents and community members. She is very energetic and committed to her school.
The summer emphasis is on improving reading skills and the library appears to be the center of this activity. Linda Gabney and Jenn Mahoney along with several parents were working with a large group of kids when we entered the library. Some of the youngsters were reading and some were working on art projects. The library was bright, colorful and orderly and yet it had an atmosphere of energy. The kids were enthusiastic and totally engaged. Hardly any of them looked up to see who had come into the room. Surrounded by attentive parents and volunteers they were in a safe environment where they concentrated on perfecting their skills.
Parents like Liliana Munoz, Wan, and the “Friday Garden Mothers” are also part of the support base. They volunteer while their children take part in the many activities taking place in classrooms and on the playground. When we met Liliana, she was passing out healthy looking plates piled high with pasta salad, carrots, bagels and watermelon. Kids out on the playground were learning Soccer skills from Alicia Skow’s teenagers who live and attend school in San Marcos. We saw other parents involved with the students in various activities and we could feel the family ambiance in the air.
Inside the Multi-purpose room we found Vince Vargas teaching painting. Young artists were painting large brightly colored ceramic pots with renderings of animals. Vince was volunteering today but when school begins he will be the After School Program Co-ordinator (ASES). We found out that he was the artist that painted the seascape mural “Maryland Makos” on the side of the building we were in and that he has murals at several other school campuses.
Groups like the Route 78 Rotary Club and the women of P.E.O. are another part of the support base. Route 78 Rotary club in San Marcos has primarily Latino members who are drawn from every community in North County. P.E.O. stands for Philanthropic Educational Organization. It is a philanthropic organization where women celebrate the advancement of women and educate women through scholarships, grants, awards, and loans. They seek to motivate women to achieve their highest aspirations. They currently own and support, Cottey College, which is located in Nevada, Missouri. The College is an independent, Liberal Arts and Sciences College founded for women by Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard in 1884. Volunteers Linda Gabney and our Librarian friend Jenn Mahoney are P.E.O. members.
Approaching one classroom, we had to stand back as the door opened and one after another dozens of youngsters filed out, each one carrying a violin. Bringing up the rear, Kim Stephens-Doll motioned for us to follow the procession. Kim is the Music director of the Vista Orchestra for Youth which was started at the Boys and Girls Club of Vista last November. She has temporarily combined that program with the summer program at Maryland Elementary. Shortly we were sitting at lunch tables being sweetly serenaded by 40 young musicians. It was incredible! The kids had learned posture, presentation, grip, and technique in just a few months. They played as one with the melody floating into a lovely tune.
Also supported by numerous churches and volunteer parents, the Healthy Living Summer Academy (HLSA) offers a wide array of activities;
- Reading Incentive Program with Tutors
- Nutritious lunches
- Table Games
- Open Playground
- Vista Orchestra
- Computer Learning Time
- Healthy Living Drama Class
- Open Library
- Table Games and Crafts
- Soccer Practice with Coaches/Games and Relays
- Arts Projects
- Computer Learning Time
- One-on-one Tutoring and Mentoring
- Gardening for Health
- Healthy Family Fun and Games
- Family Fiesta
Parents bringing their kids to the summer program are eligible for many of the same activities plus Parenting Classes, Nutrition classes, and Zumba classes. Wan told me that the nutrition class where the parents had to place spoons of sugar into glasses to equal the sugar content of a soda pop, opened many a parent’s eyes.
The stated mission at Maryland Elementary is;
- To empower the students to set high expectations and reach their potential in all aspects of their lives.
- Promote tolerance and appreciation of the world through diverse enriching experiences.
- Create a climate of respect and responsibility where teamwork and collaboration flourish.
- Recognize families as the first and foremost teachers of their children and provide varied opportunities to include them in our learning community.
- Support and challenge every student to succeed in all academic areas.
- Support and challenge (student) language development in order for every student to succeed in all academic areas.
- Develop positive self-image, confidence and motivation to become independent thinkers and problem solvers.
- Create a supportive climate that fosters empathetic, respectful interactions.
- Promote healthy choices school-wide.
The Healthy Living Summer Academy (HLSA) speaks to every one of these goals and Principal La Breche is well on her way to become the first principal in 7 years to last more than 2 years (breaking the principal curse). She is all about building a team, fostering trust and respect, and creating partnerships that enhance the great learning environment on her campus. The volunteers working in her team come from all over North County and share vision of excellence that is influencing all those who attend this summer session.
As we headed to the parking lot and our car, we passed one of the violinists, Miguel. Miguel smiled as we told him we enjoyed the performance and told him we wanted to catch a future concert. He told us he thought there would be one in a month or so. We replied we would look forward to it and headed down the sidewalk. Miguel called after us, “Maybe you’ll see me with a Cello by then.” Inspired by this wonderful summer program and supported by amazing volunteers … Miguel has big dreams!
For more information please contact any of the following:
Sue Bentley, School-Community Partnerships: 760-445-4049,firstname.lastname@example.org
Susana Torrico, Community Liaison: Susanatorrico@vistausd.org
Carol La Breche, Principal: 760-631-6675 email@example.com.