August 22, 2019

VSU Partners with Community Organizations to Keep Youth Academically Engaged During Summer Months


The program included American Sign Language lessons taught by VSU students and faculty.

VALDOSTA — Students from pre-k through high school are returning to school this fall engaged and ready to learn thanks to the Summer Feeding and Reading Program, a collaborative effort among Valdosta State University’s James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, Advancing Valdosta Inc., Mae Wisenbaker McMullen Memorial Southside Library, and Second Harvest of South Georgia Inc.

The free program, which took place twice a week throughout June and July, allowed youth to gather at Southside Library or VSU’s campus for a fun, interactive activity provided by VSU faculty and students and a nutritious lunch provided by Second Harvest of South Georgia. The educational activities ranged from learning American Sign Language, to hearing about proper exercise and nutrition, to participating in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related exercises. They were activities that — as Southside Library manager Kathy James put it — “caught their attention.”

The program also promoted literacy through reading challenges that culminated in participants receiving books that were donated by the Dewar College of Education and Human Services.

“This program gives them something to do during the summer that’s worthwhile,” said Dr. Lynn Minor, director of partnerships, community outreach, and alumni development for the Dewar College of Education and Human Services and a coordinator for the Summer Feeding and Reading Program. “It challenges them to read during their time off from school, and it fills in what they miss from not being in school.”

Minor added that the program also gives VSU students valuable hands-on experience in teaching and interacting with children within their chosen profession.

Carlos Hundley, executive director of Advancing Valdosta, Inc. — a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing development, literacy-based, and mentoring programs to high-risk youth — said the Summer Feeding and Reading Program is a great way to ensure youth are prepared for the upcoming school year.

“There is a tendency during the summer months for children to forget the curriculum that they learned the previous year,” Hundley said. “What we wanted to do with this program was keep that academic aspect in their lives with reading, writing, mathematics, and even some STEM-based activities so that when school resumes in August, they are ready.” 

Dr. Shirley Andrews, former interim head of the Department of Elementary Education who retired in July and was a coordinator of the program, said community organizations collaborating in this way produces a big impact.

“Sometimes children don’t always have resources at their disposal,” she said. “Parents sometimes don’t know what those resources are, and unless agencies and organizations get together and decide to promote something like this, then the community may not have these resources.”

Alice Parks, who brought her two granddaughters and one cousin — ages 5, 6, and 7 — to the Summer Feeding and Reading Program, said she loved the interactive aspect of the activities.

“I believe that this world is a teaching instrument,” Parks said. “It doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We actually have to go out and experience and apply everything that we learned. And they get to do that in small ways in this program. It gives them more of an outlook on what’s out there for them to look forward to.” 

The same partners behind the Summer Feeding and Reading Program also host Help with Homework throughout the school year, which allows children to receive after-school tutoring and mentoring free of charge.

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