Summer Learning Institute benefits from local volunteers

By Tara Cavanaugh

Ann Arbor Police Chief John Seto looked official in his officer’s uniform, complete with two guns and a large walkie-talkie slung around his waist. But to Jessica Sawin’s small and squirmy class of future first graders at the Summer Learning Institute, Seto was their favorite playmate. He was their friend who helped them build with blocks, figure out math games and stay focused on their tasks.

The chief was just one of dozens of volunteers who gave their time to the Summer Learning Institute held at Ann Arbor Open from July 9 to Aug. 3. 

The institute is a district-wide program that provides summer school for rising first graders –– children who will be going into first grade in the fall. This year’s program also held classes of rising third graders. Students attend the 20-day program from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and take lessons aimed at boosting their math and reading skills.

“We’re trying to catch the kids as early as we can,” said Rose Marie Callahan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools math and science coordinator for grades K-5 who helps coordinate SLI. “Once that gap gets going and they get off track in math or reading, everything becomes that much more challenging.”

Ann Arbor Police Chief John Seto said volunteering at the Summer Learning Institute also helps kids feel more comfortable around police officers.

The program graduated 210 students this summer, and was the result of “a lot of community support,” Callahan said.

District teachers volunteered to do the initial assessments of students. High school students helped with office work. Interns from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University logged some teaching experience. Fifteen volunteers from 826 Michigan assisted teachers twice a week.

Five City of Ann Arbor employees also helped. Jacqueline Beaudry, the city clerk; Steve Powers, the city administrator; Sara Higgins, assistant to the city administrator; Sumedh Bahl, community services area administrator and Police Chief Seto each volunteered in Mrs. Sawin’s class one day a week for the full four hours.

“Having the volunteers there, especially for the lower grade, is just critical,” Callahan said. “This way students are engaged from the minute they walk in the door to the minute they leave.”

Mrs. Sawin said that even with a small class of students –– her class had seven rising first graders ––  it’s helpful to have another adult in the room to help kids stay on task and get individual attention.

She was also pleasantly surprised to see Chief Seto “jump right into the classroom activities. He didn’t hang back. He was playing on the floor with kids and everything.”

“We all had a good time,” said Higgins, assistant to the city administrator. “It gives us a good appreciation that all hard work going on (at SLI) in the summer.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for anyone in the city to put aside a few hours for few weeks,” Seto said.

Amy Sumerton, program director at 826 Michigan, agrees. “I have never heard a volunteer say anything other than just wonderful, glowing praise for that program,” she said. “I feel great as an organizer about participating, because all of our volunteers have a wonderful experience.”

For more photos of Chief Seto with Mrs. Sawin’s class, check out the AAPS Facebook page.

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