About 550 Richmond County pupils have been making the most of their summer, learning in a new summer-school program begun by the group BELL, an acronym for Building Educated Leaders for Life.
"This is something that is really exciting," said state Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta, who on Wednesday toured learning sites at Jamestown Elementary School.
The summer offering, which ends July 22, is an extension of an after-school program through BELL begun for elementary and middle school pupils in February.
BELL officials will assess the success of the summer program in improving learning skills. A recent report about the after-school program, which ended in May, shows improvement with many of the 436 youngsters who completed the course.
Pupils were tested at the start of the program and at the end. Although the after-school program was initiated mid-school year, reducing the program to half its typical number of sessions, BELL officials told school board members that of those who answered less than half of their initial test questions correctly, 62 percent had increased their reading scores by the end of the course, and 67 percent had done so in math.
The after-school program, which will return in September, offers slightly more than two hours of instruction after regular classes. Elementary and middle schools can recommend as many as 30 students each for the program. The efforts tout smaller classroom sizes and a focus on math, reading and such things as leadership enrichment.
The summer school offering runs five weeks, four days a week, 61/2 hours each day. At Jamestown Elementary on Wednesday, several classes were in session, with no more than 11 pupils in each. Youngsters were put into groups of four or five with the assistance of a certified teacher and teacher's assistant.
Jennifer Donaldson and Ca'Vana Lambert were challenging their pupils to use their creative side after reading books that employed exaggeration to craft a story. Lambert asked her group to complete the following sentence with an exaggeration: "The house was larger than ..."
"The house was larger than ... the Earth," said Grady Rhodes, a second-grader.
"Great job!" Lambert responded.
In a fourth-grade class down the hall, youngsters were illustrating vocabulary words on flash cards and drawing volcanoes with overflowing lava to help remember the meaning of the word molten .
Brenda Morton, BELL's Augusta community outreach manager, said her group has been pleased to see the support, and she hopes more Title 1 money will become available for the coming year so BELL can offer even more learning sites.
She said this past school year the after-school program was at 16 elementary schools.
"We'd like to service more," she said.
The program also plans to start earlier this coming year and finish prior to students taking the CRCT.