Building on success: State grant triples ACCESS summer youth program

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Taqwaa Mohamed (left), a kindergarten and first grade-teacher, helps her students practice the actions to a song at the ACCESS Summer Academy at Salina Elementary School in Dearborn. A state grant has allowed the summer academic and recreational program to expand from about 150 students at two sites to nearly 500 students at five locations.

Sunday Times Newspapers

DEARBORN – When is a waiting list for summer school a good thing?

When the program’s so popular children actually want to go there.

A $187,000 grant for a pilot summer school expansion program has allowed an expansion of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services’ summer school program from 150 to nearly 500 students.

Michigan Department of Education officials notified ACCESS officials May 26 that they would receive a Michigan Department of Education grant of $187,217 for a pilot summer school expansion program.

“We were thrilled when this came about because it’s been part of our vision for a number of years to expand the summer school program,” ACCESS Youth and Education Director Anisa Sahoubah said. “We thought it would be great to expand it to reach hundreds of students.”

A model program has been in place at Salina Elementary School and at Bridge Academy, in Hamtramck for more than 10 years.

The expanded ACCESS Summer Academy is also offered at River Oaks Elementary in Dearborn Heights, at Miller Elementary School and the Advanced Technology Academy charter school, 4801 Oakman Blvd, which predominantly serves Detroit students.

ACCESS also has programs at Bridge Academy charter school in Hamtramck, which serves grades one through eight, and at Frontier International Academy in Hamtramck, which serves grades six through 12.

“We’ve never had an issue with recruitment,” Sahoubah said. “The program historically has been a recreational program so they know that when they enroll, sure they’ll be getting math and reading, but they’ll also be getting swimming, organized sports – teams and leagues, a field trip every week…incentives both tangible and intangible.”

Asya Obad, Salina site supervisor, said that they have a waiting list for their programs, which began enrollment in May. Each program is six weeks long, and will end next week.

“The wait list is a great reflection of how well the program has been in the past years and how it continues to grow,” Salina site supervisor Hani Abdallah said. “And the kids really want to be here… the kids get exposed to different things so they’re excited to be here.”

The Salina summer program was a full school day Monday through Thursday. Other ACCESS summer school sites have half-day programs. All programs end next week.

On Monday through Wednesday, Sahoubah said, the program offered at Salina focuses on literacy and math components. Statewide, students are struggling in these two areas, and teachers there want to make sure their students don’t regress during the summer months.

“This is especially important for the new immigrants,” Sahoubah said. “A lot of them speak English only at school, so they lose a lot of their English language skills during the summer.”

Sahoubah said that building vocabulary is a very important part of the program, and that the skills are reinforced through games.

She added that without summer learning, mainstream students regress in their reading skills as well. She said the program is very interactive and led by certified teachers who do it through disguised learning.

“We call them the ‘bubble kids,’” Obad said. “The ones that are in the middle, the ones that don’t get the intervention… You have the lower ones that get the intervention during the day, the higher ones that don’t need it, so we work with the ones in the middle… we help get them to where they need to be.”

Obad said the program fills a gap in the public schools, as intervention programs there cannot reach all students in academic need.

They also hire and train college students studying education to lead the activities, so there is what Sahoubah refers to as a “big brother, big sister connection.” She said the youth leaders are also trained to help build student self-esteem and establish an atmosphere of courtesy and respect and model those ideals.

The program also includes field trips, from area Metroparks to the Detroit Zoo.

“We’re not forgetting that it’s the summertime,” Sahoubah said. “Students have to have fun.”

Sahoubah said the idea is to expose the students as much as possible to what is available to them in their community, to people of different backgrounds and professional fields.

They have brought in Innovative Roots, a Dearborn robotics and educational learning company, as well as several animal programs.

“The students really look forward to this,” Sahoubah said. “If this program weren’t available, a lot of the students would not have the opportunity to go outside of the community; having all of these field trips is essential I think. The mentorship piece of this is very important as well.”

“I had that opportunity and people showed me that as a child,” Abdallah said. “I was a youth leader here, and I remember as a child what impact it made on my life, and I know the impact that we’re making on the kids’ lives here.