Dec. 12, 2012

Soaring Stars program showing promise for children in rural areas


Megan Bell, executive director of the Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation, visits with a student participating in Geneseo's Soaring Stars education program. /PHOTO BY BRIAN BENNETT



A team of Geneseo faculty, students and others are hoping that a summer learning program for elementary-age students in rural areas — especially those living at the poverty level — will increase their chances of graduating from high school and advancing to a post-secondary education experience.

The Rochester-based Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation awarded the college a $50,000 grant to initiate the Soaring Stars program last summer and committed an additional $50,000 in matching grants to continue the program for at least two more summers. The Geneseo Foundation and the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership also have provided program support.

The first group of students comprised 27 first-graders from nine rural school districts of Livingston County, who were selected by their district to participate. The students will be invited to return each summer through the sixth grade to gauge the effect the program has on their educational and social development. The students attend the summer program five days a week for six hours a day for six weeks.

"We see differences in rural students compared to suburban students in such areas as literacy levels, background knowledge and vocabulary development," said Program Director Annmarie Urso, assistant professor of education in the Ella Cline Shear School of Education. "We are using a method that really helps these children develop enthusiasm for learning, and we saw some very promising signs of progress."

The team employed instruction inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, which encourages children to develop individual interests and explore them using art, music, traditional subject instruction and physical activities.

"In this approach, the child and his or her environment are as important as the teacher," said Urso. "The teacher helps children follow their interests. The development of motor skills, social skills and cognitive skills are all important precursors for academic success."

Urso and her team will follow the core group of students, regardless of their abilities, to see if the outcomes are different based on their experience in the program.

"We also are sharing our impressions of the students with their kindergarten or first-grade teachers so they know what worked or didn't work in the summer program," she said. "We are gathering lots of qualitative data."