Middle schoolers showcase new talents at Summer Learning Institute finale at the Neutral Zone

Some students at the Summer Learning Institute learned to write poetry, then read it to their families and others on the final night at the Neutral Zone.

Story and photos by Jo Mathis
AAPS District News

The Summer Learning Institute held at Scarlett Middle School this summer ended this week at the Neutral Zone, where the 65 students in grades 6-8 showed off the artistic skills they’ve developed over the past few weeks.

“In today’s fast paced, information-driven society, students need to be able to be confident in their skill sets,” said lead teacher/administrator Sal Barrientes, noting that the main purpose of the program is to build confidence in students who need some extra help with math, reading and writing. “We want our kids to dream big,” he said.

About 40 University of Michigan School of Education students worked with the students.

“When you think about that ratio, and the opportunity for a kid to almost get one-on-one support during their time with us in the morning, that’s big,” said Scarlett Principal Vazquez. “Really big.”

SLI lead teacher Sal and Scarlett Principal Gerald V pose for a picture at the Neutral Zone.
SLI lead teacher Sal Barrientes and Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez pause for a picture at the Neutral Zone Wednesday night.

The SLI takes students who are struggling with math or reading and puts them in an environment that looks a bit different from school and offers an opportunity to be creative, he explained.

“All of a sudden, they’re doing higher order thinking and closing their learning gaps in a fun way over a course of four weeks,” Vazquez said said. “If we can turn the light bulb on for a kid during the summer, so that he says, `Hey, I can be a successful learner,’ what we’ll be able to do in the fall is capitalize on that with them. Within our Title One community, we do have some learning loss in the summer, and with this program, we take some of that away. And that’s a big bonus for us.”

Charles Dershimer, a field instructor with the U-M School of Education, said that SLI is a fantastic program because it allows U-M interns to experience a designed setting for what school is all about while working one-on-one with AAPS faculty.


This year’s theme was: “What motivates and inspires you?”  The directors and facilitators at the Neutral Zone provided the means for the students to showcase what they have experienced and learned during the summer session.


Parents and staff watch the videos the students created over the last four weeks.

The directors and facilitators at the Neutral Zone provided the means for the students to showcase what they have experienced and learned during the summer session.ted showcase their experiences:

  • A video production (commercial or skit)
  • A rap or pre-recorded song
  • A spoken word/poem presentation

Barrientes added: “These four weeks have been inspiration, with the interns getting inspiration from the kids, the kids learning so much from the adults who took time with them, It’s been inspirational to me to see the relationships the U-M interns have established with the kids, and the kids’ confidence is there. You can see it. They’re ready to go for fall.”

Scarlett eighth grader Aidan Fulgenzi said he enjoyed writing, recording and performing his rap song, which was popular with the crowd.

“I made a lot of new friends, too,” said Aidan.

Aidan Fulgenzi played billiards at the end of the night at the Neutral Zone.
Aidan Fulgenzi plays billiards at the end of the night at the Neutral Zone.

It was a joy to work with the creative team from the Neutral Zone, said Scarlett ELA teacher Elliot Begley.

“The kids had a blast, so it was a lot of fun,” he said, explaining that Neutral Zone staff came out to Scarlett twice, and the kids visited the Neutral Zone twice before the finale. “They actually got to record in the recording studio over there, and they were doing video editing back in the computer lab, and they were writing poetry in the lounge upstairs. It was a very cool process.”



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