Soaring Stars: A Summer Enrichment Program for Rural Youth

"Soaring Stars is an excellent program. We love the interest-led style of learning, we love the loving/nurturing environment, and we love that our kids want to keep attending, exploring, and learning. This program is so valuable to us that we are intentionally staying within the area served by the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in order to allow our children to continue attending this program."

- M.Stanley, parent of three Soaring Stars students - Cohort 2, Cohort 4 and Cohort 6 students.

Promoting student engagement and success in early education

Soaring Stars Summer Enrichment Program is currently offered to students in Livingston and Steuben County. In summer 2018 the program enrolled 57 students from eight school districts across Livingston and Steuben counties.  These counties serve have an economically disadvantaged rate for youth of 43% (Livingston) and 53% (Steuben) of the students come from low-income families as measured by free and reduced lunch rates. (NYSED 2015-2016 Report Card Data)  

The school district report card data also suggests there is some disconnect between attendance rates and graduation rates.  For example, the 2011 cohort of Mt. Morris's on-time graduation rate was 70%, yet their annual attendance was 91%.  Looking further into the data we see that graduation rates differ considerably between children identified as economically disadvantaged and their non-economically disadvantaged counterparts.  

 According to the Rural School and Community Trust (2011), in regard to academics, students from rural areas are less likely to:

  • Have access to on-site AP courses in high school 
  • Have access to after-school and summer enrichment opportunities
  • Attend top tier colleges, compared to similarly achieving low-SES urban and suburban students
  • Do well in college

This suggests that variables that impact learning and graduation rates in rural areas may not be linked to attendance, but perhaps, rooted in poverty, access to enrichment opportunities, and curriculum.    

The goal of the Soaring Stars Program  is to develop a sense of self-confidence, self-efficacy, and accomplishment in students through engaging, inquiry-based, provocative learning experiences that value the student, teacher, and the environment as equal contributors to the experience. Specifically, we want students to see themselves as capable, intelligent, and creative individuals who are able to collaborate and communicate appropriately with their peers and teachers to accomplish common goals. This approach values the child, the environment, and the teacher as equal stakeholders in the learning process.

Results from Prior Years

The Soaring Stars Program has supported over 300 unique children and their families across nine school districts since its inception in 2012.  Most children return to the program for at least three summers, demonstrate elimination of summer learning loss, and many show growth academically, as well as socially and emotionally.

In 2020, remote learning during the pandemic changed the way we delivered our summer program.  We provided curated project boxes to children via weekly home visits. We collected data on contacts (texting, phone calls, virtual meetings), and a parent, teacher, and child survey which was conducted by an outside agency. The data yielded included the following information: we had weekly face-to-face (home visits) contacts with 33 unique families for a total of 198 face-to-face visits with children and parents, 86 ear-to-ear (phone) contacts with parents, 595 thumb-to-thumb (text) contacts with parents and children, and 65 zoom meetings with children, 7 of which were with the entire cohort synchronously. We delivered 70 meals weekly (breakfast and lunch) and an additional family meal in the last week of program. The food insecurity in rural communities, especially among our students, was significant.  Survey results indicated the parents were appreciative of this critical food source to help provide meals for their children when access to school meals was not available.

Pre-COVID (2013-2019), we used a comparison of school benchmark assessment data from May/June, prior to attending Soaring Stars summer program, to the school benchmark assessment data from September, after attending Soaring Stars, to show that children who attended Soaring Stars for at least 20/25 days demonstrated: (a) elimination of summer learning loss (100%), (b) measurable gains in reading (88%), and (c) measurable gains in mathematics (74%).

Summer of 2017 marks the year when children who began Soaring Stars as rising kindergarteners in Year One, were now rising fifth graders; they have completed the full scope of the program.  Children entering seventh grade next fall will be eligible to transition to summer programming at SUNY Geneseo!  With the continued support from the Geneseo Foundation, the Office of the Provost of SUNY Geneseo, the Ella Cline Shear School of Education, the United Way of Livingston County, the Feinbloom Supporting Foundation and the Wilson Foundation, 68 children were enrolled in program from nine rural school districts. 

In 2014, with support from the Geneseo Foundation, the Office of the Provost of SUNY Geneseo, the Ella Cline Shear School of Education, the United Way of Livingston County, The Feinbloom Supporting Foundation (see the Rochester Area Community Foundation), and the Wilson Foundation, 48 children participated in the program.  With new funding for field trips, we infused outdoor education into our program

In 2013, with support from the Geneseo Foundation, the Office of the Provost of SUNY Geneseo, the Ella Cline Shear School of Education, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, and the Wilson Foundation, 37 children from nine school districts attended Soaring Stars. Parent attendance at Open House remained high, with approximately 90% of families attending at least one open house during the program.

In 2012, with partial support from the Wilson Foundation, the faculty and staff at SUNY Geneseo’s nationally accredited Ella Cline Shear School of Education implemented this program, serving 26 rural, low-income students in Kindergarten and grade 1. With students engaged in provocative learning experiences in the first half of the day, followed by teacher planning and instruction around these activities in the second half of the day, instruction is geared to the needs, interests, and questions of students to develop language and math-readiness skills. Supported with funding from the Wilson Foundation and from SUNY Geneseo, the program was successful in terms of participation rates, buy-in, and reported impact on students. With an average of 98% attendance during the 6-week program, 100% of parents and guardians expressed satisfaction with the program and 98% are committed to their child participating in 2013. All families attended at least one of the two open houses.

Additionally, 100% of the current academic year principals and/or teachers of all the 2015-6 cohorts reported improvement for their students in one or more of the following areas:

  • Self-esteem
  • Reduction of high-risk behaviors
  • Social skills