Showcasing supplemental learning disguised as summer fun, the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools’ Summer Enrichment Program can be summed up in one enthusiastic teacher’s exclamation: “It’s working!”
Linda Vadino, fourth-grade teacher at St. Paul School, Burlington — one of 14 Catholic schools of the Diocese of Trenton granted funds for academic support — is seeing the benefits firsthand.
“This Summer Enrichment is really having an impact,” she said. “I have seen students I taught last year continue making strides through the summer, and it is exciting to know they will come in even more prepared next year. The math curriculum for the summer is all game-based, and they are having so much fun playing with their peers.”
The Summer Enrichment program, run at little-to-no cost to families, came about through a donation from The Mike & Patti Hennessy Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting various life-improving ventures in the areas of health care, educational opportunities and local Christian educational programs.
The foundation “was excited to offer the Diocese of Trenton elementary schools the opportunity to develop summer programming to support COVID-19 learning loss,” said Bonnie Milecki, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools.
“We saw how Catholic schools innovated throughout the course of the pandemic to meet the needs of their communities,” said Shannon Pulaski, executive director of The Mike & Patti Hennessy Foundation. “The Diocese of Trenton presented a plan where local school leaders were given a voice to define the immediate needs for their students and the ability to design personalized summer programs.”
Students in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School work on fine motor skills using scissors as part of their Summer Enrichment.
Combatting Pandemic Fallout
While Catholic schools mitigated COVID-19’s effects on children’s social-emotional learning and academic abilities, the pandemic nevertheless took a toll. The Summer Enrichment program targets rising kindergarten through eighth graders with access to remedial and enrichment opportunities.
Participating schools were St. Raphael, Hamilton; St. Mary, Manahawkin; St. James, Red Bank; St. Mary, Mother of God, Middletown; St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; St. Peter, Point Pleasant Beach; St. Catharine, Spring Lake; Our Lady of Sorrows, Hamilton; Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Asbury Park; St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square; St. Paul, Burlington; St. Joan of Arc, Marlton; and Sacred Heart, Mount Holly.
School leaders were given the flexibility and autonomy to build a summer program their school needed and could sustain, Milecki explained, noting that programs ran between two and six weeks, with some schools opting for partial-day and others full-day instruction.
“We hope that when students go back to school this fall, the teachers see [students’] noticeable improvements in the areas of math, reading and social-emotional skills,” Milecki emphasized.
Additional goals included parent and teacher satisfaction with the outcomes and value of Catholic schools.
“We hope that parents feel supported by very affordable summer enrichment,” Milecki said. “We know that the teachers will have benefitted from an additional opportunity to earn income, and that will also help with teacher retention.”
The Summer Enrichment program has received glowing reviews.
“The students attending the programs are reporting that they are fun and engaging and most importantly ‘don’t feel like regular school,’” Milecki noted. “The teachers are grateful both for the opportunity to support student progress and the additional opportunity to work in the summer months. Parents are seeing their kids excited to go to camp and receiving rigorous academic instruction.”
Stephanie Berberich, parent of nine-year-old twins Angelina and Marianna in St. Catharine School, attested to the program’s enthusiastic reception in their home.
“Having the opportunity to be inspired and taught over the summer by such knowledgeable, skilled teachers for a nominal fee is a blessing,” she said. “My girls really enjoy STREAM/STEM, reading and math, and we were so happy for them to be able to continue to advance in these subjects.”
Angelina demonstrated to her mother “an easier way to do stacking when subtracting,” while Mariana enjoyed learning about “making a hypothesis.” Both were “wowed when they learned about how airplanes fly,” Berberich said.
“This is so important for these kids,” said Casey Shields in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, who helped with various behind the scenes tasks and will be joining the school faculty in the fall. “This opportunity has brought full-day summer programming with strong academics, field trips and special community activities to our students, many of whom would not [otherwise] have these experiences.”
Stephanie Connors, fifth-grade teacher in St. Mary of the Lakes, said the program’s STEM classes are entirely project-based. “Not only do we see the kids growing in their math and reading skills, but because they are collaborating with peers, we see their communication and problem-solving skills developing as well.”
Lauren-Carmel Sirak, second-grade teacher in Our Lady of Sorrows School, enjoyed the creativity in developing their program. “The kids are having a blast, and even the teachers are thinking of new ways to incorporate fun activities designed for the summer into the curriculum during the school year.”
Expressing gratitude to The Mike & Patti Hennessy Foundation for its generosity, Milecki also credited school leaders and teachers for the program’s success and “for having the courage and creativity to innovate this program in only a matter of a few months. They have been amazing partners to work with in this process!”