John Finelli will probably have an easier time than most kids getting out of bed on Aug. 29 when his mom, Jaime Colon, tells him it's time to go to school.
The 9-year-old has already spent the last three weeks at Roger Sherman Elementary School, working on math, science, and reading activities along with games and field trips as part of a Meriden Children First pilot enrichment program called "Summer at Sherman."
"This is giving him a jumpstart for the school year," said Colon, who was at Roger Sherman on Thursday for the program's final day.
"Summer at Sherman" provided 30 lower-income children from the neighborhood surrounding the school with a free three-week summer program. This summer was the program's second year, and it was organized by Meriden Children First as part of the group's Meriden Family Zone project.
The Family Zone is an area spanning several blocks in the center of Meriden in which Children First has committed to providing "cradle-to-college support" for children of about 25 families, to improve their health and education, according to Children First literature.
The summer program is meant to fight some of the "learning loss" that happens over summer break. Research shows that two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between high and low-income children in the areas of reading and language can be attributed to learning loss in the summer months during grade school, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, the children had lessons and activities at Roger Sherman, and on Monday and Friday they were taken to the YMCA's Mountain Mist Day Camp. Wednesday was the overall favorite of kids and teachers – field trip day. The group went to the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Auer Farm in Bloomfield, and Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI.
"I think it's a great combination - mixing education with games and activities. Especially over the summer, when they tend to lose so much," said Lisa Torres, one of three Roger Sherman teachers who led the program. "It's a nice way to keep them learning without even realizing it."
Another boon of "Summer at Sherman" was getting the kids out of the area for experiences they may never have had before. Though some children in the program had visited farms, zoos and the Mystic Aquarium before, many hadn't, said David Radcliffe, Director of Meriden Children First.
"Their summer is that neighborhood. Their world is that neighborhood," he said.
Last year the group went to Hubbard Park and organizers found out it was the first time some of the children had ever been there.
"The things we take for granted are new to them," said Trudy Magnolia of the Cuno Foundation, who was at the program Thursday. Cuno provides some financial support for the program, along with several other local organizations. New Opportunities, the YMCA and the Meriden Public School System are also some of the program's major partners.
Radcliffe is hoping to garner more funding next year to expand the program. Admission this year was first-come first-served, with a cutoff of 30.
The kids on Thursday all seemed excited about the program and to have enjoyed their weeks in it. (You can see some of the children talking about their favorite parts of the camp by clicking the attached video.)
Iris Miranda-Ramirez, 8, and Nayeli Mendez, 10, both liked visiting Auer farm. Mendez most enjoyed churning her own vanilla ice cream, which she said took about 15 minutes, "and then we got to eat it."
Miranda-Ramirez rattled off the items she learned came from a farm (like vegetables) and didn't come from a farm (like soda).
Finelli enjoyed putting on a show with puppets students made themselves from single-serving cereal-boxes. His group performed the "Three Little Pigs" and took some improvisational liberties.
The big bad wolf's "I want to eat you up," met with "How about I get you a grinder from Subway instead," from one of the pigs, he said.
"It was even better than the one in the books," Finelli said, laughing at the memory.