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SSD Project ASSETS summer classes keep minds active

June 4, 2012

The Starkville School District will begin its Project ASSETS summer classes Monday, offering free evening classes in subjects including photography, dance, cooking, art, engineering and math.

Joan Butler, director of SSD's Family Centered Programs, said the program uses a grant from 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a division of the Mississippi Department of Education. The program is in the last year of its five-year grant, she said, which also pays for after-school programs during the school year.

"(Project ASSETS) extends the school day and the school year by providing quality, safe learning environments after school hours and during the summer months when children are not engaged in the traditional, regular school," Butler said. "Parents work year-round. Most people who have jobs work until 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. We really do need to look at what happens to kids when school's out. Where do they go? How can we better serve that school age population and those families?"

Michelle Garraway, Project ASSETS coordinator, said most of the summer classes have filled quickly, but two classes still have openings and can be entered right up until they start. "Math in Real Life," for those who have finished fourth grade, starts at 4 p.m. Monday, and "Engineering with K'Nex," for those who have finished grades 3-5, starts Tuesday at 5 p.m. All Project ASSETS classes are free.

Both Garraway and Butler said the engineering class is very popular; Garraway said it was so popular they created a second slot to handle the overflow.

"I'm actually surprised one of these classes still has open slots, because the other one filled up so fast," Garraway said. "They actually like K'Nex ... it's like Tinker Toys or Legos. Our most popular class that filled up the most quickly was 'Candy and Cake Decorating.' It was extremely popular last year, and we knew we had to bring it back."

Garraway said she believes summer education programs like Project ASSETS are important because they keep children from losing information learned during the school year.

"It's shown in their grades and test scores; students will lose information if they're not being stimulated in some way," Garraway said. "Having programs like ours where they're (building) math or literacy skills but having fun and not feeling like it's school ... is really beneficial."

Butler said the lack of expense is not the only advantage Project ASSETS has over other programs.

"We employ the most highly qualified teachers," Butler said. "We hire licensed teachers to teach in their area of expertise. Then we hire experts in the field such as Kayla Gilmore who will be teaching dancing classes. That's really unique. You don't really find so many experts coming together often to put on a summer camp."

Garraway said a key goal of Project ASSETS is to help students learn where their interests lie and have fun while learning. She said the SSD has applied for another grant and is waiting to hear from MDOE.

"We feel lucky we have the funding to offer this," Garraway said. "Hopefully, we'll have some more funding in the future to do something like this ... (and) we'll hear by the end of July if we have received further funding."

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