PAWS helping students avoid a 'summer slide'
Students will not return to classes at Simmons Elementary School until Aug. 10, but some kids are exercising their minds this summer at PAWS: Providing Academic and Wellness Services. The program has been offered to Simmons Elementary students for five summers so they don't lose ground in math and reading before returning to school. "There's usually a summer slide," explained PAWS program director Cindy Roseberry. "So we're keeping the kids on track . so when they come back in the fall they're . ready to go." Simmons Elementary students in first-through-fifth grades next school year participate in PAWS for four consecutive weeks during the summer, with rising kindergartners joining them for the final two weeks of the program so they can get acquainted with their new school, Roseberry said. Last Thursday morning, visitors from Newton's Attic provided guidance to students busy designing and constructing sailboats on wheels. Each group of students received three plastic straws, four washers, a paper cup, an index card, two paper clips and some masking tape to accomplish this task using teamwork, math skills, ingenuity and creativity. "They're not passive learners, they're active learners," said Megen Eaves, a fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher at Simmons. "And they're having - as you can see right now - to rely on each other's knowledge. So they're learning how to work together cooperatively, which is so important in today's society." Eaves and other teachers offer assistance to students in the program, with additional help provided by former PAWS participants and volunteers from Woodford Community Christian Church, a community partner since PAWS began five years ago. Woodford County High School graduate Michael Noss, who has been helping out at Newton's Attic (a science and engineering education program based in Lexington) for three years, says he wishes his younger self had similar hands-on learning opportunities as last week's sailboat-making project. "Watching these kids has helped me understand - no matter what you're doing it's always good to have someone else help you out. They might know one way to do it that would work a lot better," Noss said. And besides, he said, "It's better than just sitting inside and playing video games all day." Parker Owen, an instructor for Newton's Attic, described the sailboat-building project as an opportunity for kids to "think outside the box." He predicted each group of students in the PAWS summer program would come up with a different sailboat design. In addition to its summer program, which ends on July 22, PAWS offers after-school homework help to students who have learning barriers. A 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education paid for student transportation and other costs associated with offering PAWS. Simmons Elementary was not awarded a continuation grant, but will reapply in the fall in an effort to resume PAWS services next year, Roseberry said. It saddens her to know PAWS may come to an end "because it's such a valuable program to our kids and to our families as well," she said. "They depend on the program so much. And once it hits (them) in the fall that it's gone, I think it's just going to be devastating to our kids and our families." A variety of after-school clubs was also organized at Simmons thanks to PAWS grant dollars, Roseberry said.