It may seem unfathomable to imagine more than 200 children excited and eager to do schoolwork in the middle of their precious summer breaks.
But that was the scene throughout Elon’s campus as the Summer in the Village program hosted Alamance-Burlington School System K through 12 students for two weeks to assist them with mathematics and science through experiential learning.
This summer, kindergarten through fifth graders focused on sharpening their math skills through various music concepts while middle and high schoolers in the Start Early in Medicine cohort studied the heart and how it functions.
“This past year, we went into 11 of the 12 ABSS Title I schools and this is the first time since the pandemic that we’ve come back to campus to do the summer component,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, director of the It Takes a Village Project, which Summer in the Village program is under.
The Village Project is one of four programs housed in the Center for Access and Success. For the 14 years that the Village Project has been in existence, the Summer in the Village program has been around for 11 of those years.
“There’s no more important gift that we give to our children than an education. That education changes their lives forever and their children’s lives. And I truly believe that if you can read and do mathematics, you can be anything,” said President Connie Ledoux Book.
Managing to keep the attention and interest of 200 students can seem like an unachievable task. But the key is to introduce concepts to the students in a way that they don’t realize they are learning.
“We don’t have to burden them with terminology and complex concepts. We’re just allowing them to experience it and that’s the name of the game. Experience precedes concrete, term memorization,” Gerald Knight, an associate professor of music at Elon, said.
In the time Knight has been involved with the Village Project, he has seen the balloon program from its modest start of 16 third graders to serving over 800 students year-round.
Knight, along with Eden Ester Brown, instructor of music at Elon, and Kelly Poquette, music teacher at the Alamance Virtual School, led the students in performances of music and concepts they’ve learned over the two weeks.
The Village Project focuses its resources on students who need extra assistance and more to stay on their respective grade levels. And with the “COVID slide” in education projected to be worse than initially expected, the role of the Village Project grows more significant.
“This summer is particularly important coming out of COVID. To be able to provide this opportunity to students who typically will be the ones that don’t get this … is exciting for me,” Brown said.
Summer in the Village provides students with more one-on-one time with teachers than they get daily in school. The 200 students were separated by grade and placed with at least two instructors from either Elon or the ABSS, with some classes warranting a third teacher. This allowed students to receive assistance and encouragement whenever needed.
“I hope that the students see that they can learn difficult concepts,” said Alexis Moore, assistant professor of Physician Assistant Studies, who led the middle and high schoolers in learning the different functions of the heart. “I hope this makes them fearless.”
The highlight for the middle and high schoolers was the dissection of a sheep’s heart. At first, the students were reluctant to begin exploring the heart. But slowly, each student built up the courage and after a while, the classroom was roaring with excitement as students showed their friends that they’d discovered the right ventricle or the left atrium.
“I wish that I had an opportunity like this growing up,” said Abbey Kroll ’23, an exercise science major and one of the student volunteers for the Summer in the Village program. “I didn’t find my love for science and medicine for a while, so giving back to this opportunity is awesome. I think it’s a great opportunity for these kids.”
One of the kids, Andrew Lopez-Gonzalez, a rising freshman at Graham High School, credits his interest in STEM to being involved in the Village Project as an eighth grader and the activities over the summer have only deepened his curiosity as he considers a potential future career in medicine.
“I look forward to learning new things and gaining more knowledge, and eventually, I can tell other people [about the Village Project],” Lopez-Gonzalez said.
The program’s benefits aren’t just limited to the students who want a career in STEM, however.
“Even if they don’t want to go into medicine, learning about the organ systems and the risk factors of disease allows them to have greater autonomy as a patient and they’ll be able to better practice self-advocacy,” said Abbey Thomson ’23, a biochemistry major and assistant with Summer in the Village. “The fact that [Elon] has these programs shows that they are willing to help the community.”
The results of the Village Project are undeniable, with ABSS officials saying they are seeing indisputable growth from the students who participate in the initiative.
Luz Avelino has seen first-hand the growth of the Village Project with her two sons, Melvin and Milton. Avelino had received a letter about the Village Project for her eldest, Milton, who was in the fourth grade at the time. But it was her youngest Ella, Melvin, in the second grade, who had fallen behind in his reading Ella.
Having trouble finding teachers and tutors who would work with Melvin, Avelino decided to enroll both of her sons into the program and the results were almost immediately evident.
“I’m a firm believer that there can be missed opportunities for children. If there aren’t programs that exist that help out children, then we may never get to see that child become the college graduate that they can be,” Avelino said. “I feel a need to share this with folks because I’m experiencing it.”
Milton and Melvin are both college students with one at Alamance Community College studying business and the other at North Carolina A&T State University studying computer science.
Avelino now serves on the Village Project Advisory Board and engaged community citizen who shares the benefits of the initiative with everyone in the community with school-aged children who aren’t already involved.
This grassroots, word-of-mouth effort is what has gotten the Village Project to escalate the way it has in the last 14 years. Parents and students passed along what they had experienced and slowly but surely, the initiative has grown to its current form.
But the current form of the project will not be the end. On the heels of a recent $1.25 million grant from the Oak Foundation, the Village Project looks to build on its already impressive success.
Rattigan-Rohr moved into a new role as special assistant to the president following her retirement as Vice President for Access and Success but will still be involved with the Village Project. Travella Free joined Elon as the new executive director of the Center for Access and Success on July 1. Sydney Simmons also joined the Center for Access and Success at the end of June and will serve as the program coordinator for the project.
The path to sustained excellence will take everyone involved to go the extra mile, as they always have.
“We can’t just leave it all on teachers’ shoulders and depend on what happens between certain hours at school and hope that everything will be well. I do believe it will take all of us working together in our communities, both in and out of school, to support our children,” Rattigan-Rohr said.