Monday I got my summer camp T-shirt. Like the dork that I am, I pulled it immediately over the button-down shirt I put on before leaving home in the morning. Not the best visual impression on a crew of rising eighth and ninth graders, I suspect.
I’ll do better Tuesday.
This T-shirt — without the button-down shirt — will be my uniform for the next nine weekday mornings. I’ll arrive at my Elon University office, take off my tie and button-down shirt, put on the Tee that reads “Summer in the Village” and walk the short distance to Lindner Hall, a building that anchors the Academic Village on campus. There I will be greeted by as many as 15 students from public schools in Alamance and Guilford counties. I met a dozen of them Monday, dropped off by their moms or friends. They’re from Williams, Western Alamance, Cummings, Eastern Guilford, the Middle College, Broadview, Eastern Guilford Middle and Western Middle.
And from 9 a.m. to noon the next two weeks we’re going to talk about reading, writing, math and science. If the first day is any indication, we’ll talk about other stuff, too. Monday, for example, we discussed the historic potato famine in Ireland and its impact on that nation and the United States. We pick that topic back up on Tuesday. Their homework was to conduct online research about the disaster.
I’m here as a volunteer — I quickly told the students, “I’m not in any way, manner shape or form a teacher.” Thank goodness for Marie Alston, a career educator who works with the Alamance-Burlington School System and Alamance Community College. I’m following her lead to the letter.
I signed up to volunteer a couple of months ago for the summer camp associated with Elon’s ongoing community outreach program, “It Takes a Village Project.” It’s an effort initiated a few years ago by Elon’s Center for Access and Success to help tutor children in Alamance County who are struggling to read. It operates daily during the school year from a building in downtown Burlington. Jean Rattigan-Rohr heads the Village Project. Elon students help as do teachers in the Alamance-Burlington School System. Churches and elementary schools serve as partners for the program.
A few months ago I was working on a story about Lindner Hall and Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, mentioned that the Village Project conducts an impressive summer camp at Lindner Hall and suggested I speak to Jean about it. The more I spoke to Jean the more I wanted to get involved. Jean has that impact on people, by the way. It’s a gift.
So Monday, students ranging in age from kindergarten to high school seniors took over Lindner Hall. Groups under the guidance of different teachers moved into classrooms by age. Everybody gets T-shirts. Everybody gets a snack at mid-morning and everybody gets a sack lunch before their parents or family friends pick them up at noon.
Monday we got off to a very smooth start, all things considered. First days are usually hectic but because these students are long-term members of the program they and their families knew exactly what to expect — and the students knew each other and their real teacher, Ms. Alston, herself an Elon College grad in the 1970s. Marie wrote on the classroom wall — it’s all whiteboard — some facts about herself: Name, job, favorite color, favorite movie or TV show, etc. When I arrived she asked me to do the same. She gave the students journals so they could write down things at their desks and told them to also write their name, where they go to school, favorite color, etc. It was a nice getting to know you ice-breaker.
One student, Juan, had questions about my choice of movie. I didn’t tell him I selected one of six dozen favorites — it’s practically impossible for me to choose a favorite movie or book. He wanted to know what “The Godfather” was about.
“It’s about an Italian family involved in organized crime,” I said.
“That sounds interesting,” he said.
Uh-oh, a bad influence already, I thought.
Juan also took note as he entered the room of the writing on the walls and asked if the walls were indeed whiteboards. “They are,” I answered.
“For a second I thought the teachers had done something wrong,” he said.
I made mental note to keep an eye on him. I can also say that based on the students’ writing today on the classroom walls, their handwriting is far superior to mine.
Overall we had an interesting morning. These kids are math whizzes compared to me and I told Marie I would likely be of little to no use when it comes to fractions, algebra and calculus.
On Tuesday we will start some writing projects, which is where I’m supposed to help. We will give the students some writing prompts but then leave them to be on their own. After that we move to math then dabble in some science before asking the students to write about the day in their journals. The only writing rule I will have for them is to “be creative.”
That’s always a good start.