Aug. 01, 2013

‘Soaring Stars’ Program Continues to Follow Rural Students’ Progress


(Left photo) -- Anjoo Sikka (middle), dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education at SUNY Geneseo, and Geneseo graduate student Kelsey Horan work with a student in the building room during the "Soaring Stars" program.

(Bottom photo) -- A “Soaring Stars” student examines Program Director Annmarie Urso as part of his science project work.

GENESEO, N.Y. – A SUNY Geneseo summer learning program for elementary school students in rural areas is in its second year, and observers are anxious to see how the students have progressed since attending last year's inaugural experience.

The "Soaring Stars" program began last summer with a class of 27 first-grade students from nine rural school districts of Livingston County. All but six of the students have returned this year and they will be invited to return through the sixth grade to gauge the effect the program is having on their educational and social development.

Another beginning class was added this year –18 rising kindergarten students. All of the students are attending the summer program five days a week for six hours a day through Aug. 16 at the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in Mt Morris, N.Y.

"We know that graduation rates are lower in rural areas, especially if they are living in poverty," said Annmarie Urso, assistant professor of education in SUNY Geneseo's Ella Cline Shear School of Education. "We hope this program will increase their chances of graduating from high school and advancing to a post-secondary education experience."

Urso and the School of Education students and staff working with her are employing the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy during the program, which encourages children to develop individual interests and explore them using art, music, traditional subject instruction and physical activities.

"In this approach, the child Soaring Starsand his or her environment is as important as the teacher, and we are seeing some very encouraging signs of progress in the students," said Urso. "The development of motor, 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 track their academic progress based on their experience in the program. They also are sharing their impressions with the students' teachers so they are aware of their progress in the summer program.

"I am very impressed with the organization and focus of this program and the level of self-assurance and independence among the camp participants," said Anjoo Sikka, dean of the School of Education. "Rural school students often learn under challenging circumstances during their elementary and secondary school years, and this program helps identify and develop their potential for academic, career and life outcomes. It's not only a tremendous experience for the students in the program but for our college students involved with the program who aspire to be teachers."

The Rochester-based Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation awarded Geneseo a $50,000 grant to initiate the "Soaring Stars" program last summer and committed an addition $50,000 in matching grants to continue the program for at least two more summers. The Rochester Area Community Foundation also provided a $40,000 grant this year. The Geneseo Foundation, the Genesee Valley Education Partnership, the Seneca Foods Foundation and the Geneseo Rotary Club also provided program support.

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