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YMCA filling the gap for summer

STERLING – Elementary and middle school students in Sterling now have a structured summer school program through which to keep up their skills.

The Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA runs a summer school program for K-8 students in the Sterling Public Schools identified by district staff, including their teachers, as motivated but in need of some extra support.

“There’s a huge push to combat summer learning loss,” said Melissa Ryan, youth development director for the local YMCA. “The YMCA has a really strong role in social responsibility and youth development, and we’ve made our goals consistent with our community needs.”

Last year, the first year the YMCA offered the program, it served about 50 elementary school students, Ryan said.

But this year, it will serve about 100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade; in fact, the program has a waiting list, mostly at the elementary level, Ryan said.

The Sterling school district in 2010 eliminated summer school for elementary-schoolers and reduced it for middle-schoolers. (It offers only credit recovery over the summer for middle-schoolers.)

The YMCA program fills a significant hole in the community, Ryan said.

“Our community needed something like this,” she said, “because without it, our kids wouldn’t have any summer school.”

The program started Monday and runs through the end of the month.

Students attend classes from 8:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday at one of three sites: Lincoln Elementary School, Washington Elementary School and Sterling High School. Students go to the school closest to home.

Students receive instruction in reading, math and asset development.

All students get a snack and lunch. And more than half of students also get transportation to their neighborhood sites through Whiteside County Public Transportation.

Six teachers and three aides from Sterling schools staff the program; they are temporary YMCA employees for the program. Three assistants from Sterling Township and four women from the Foster Grandparent program also help out in the classrooms.

The students get lots of one-on-one attention from caring adults, Ryan said.

“They’re all really in it for the kids,” she said.

The YMCA received a $35,000 grant, funded by the Walmart Foundation, through YMCA of the USA to provide meals and snacks at its after-school and summer programs throughout the year. Grant recipients were required to provide enrichment, too, and the local YMCA chose to expand its summer school program.

Serving Rock Falls, too

The Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA also runs the federally grant-funded 21st Century summer school program for Rock Falls Elementary School District students.

The program, offered since 2010, first by the University of Illinois Extension and now by the YMCA, serves more than 100 students in the low-income district, where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year.

The program has a waiting list at every grade.

Students are in school from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Rock Falls Middle School.

Students rotate through five classes: reading, math, science, asset development and physical education.

They also receive breakfast through the Let’s Feed Our Children program of the United Way of Whiteside County and lunch and a snack through the U.S. Department of Agriculture food service program.

Area teachers staff the program.

“I feel so good about the things happening in our communities,” Ryan said. “The YMCA is responding to what our community needs. That’s what we’re here for.”

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