Summer school promotes academics, self-esteem

LYNDONVILLE — The Brockport Migrant Education Program not only has a new location but new leadership for its summer school.

Sister of St. Joseph Beverly Baker retired last year after more than three decades as director of the migrant program based at SUNY Brockport, which oversaw the summer school operations. Donna Peterson-Spence is now director and Darlene Senko was hired as principal for this year’s summer school program, which is now located at the former Lyndonville Elementary School building on Main Street. Classes began at the beginning of last month.

Senko said that the location is more central for the students and staff, who travel from Monroe, Orleans, Genesee and Niagara counties. The building also is more up to date than its former location of more than a decade, Cornerstone Christian School in Brockport, she said.

Senko said that the Lyndonville building was leased to house the 37-year-old summer program, which is funded by a Title I grant from the U.S. Department of Education to provide instruction for students in grades K-8. The only criteria for summer school registration is that one parent is a farmworker, and outreach workers sign up families, she added.

During a July 16 tour of the school, Senko also said that she hopes the program can stay in the same location for at least a couple of years, but Peterson-Spence will negotiate with Lyndonville officials for a long-term lease this fall.

Currently, more than 100 students are enrolled and usually more than 90 are in attendance on any given day, Senko said. The school strives to have fewer than 20 students in each classroom, she noted.

Students in each classroom are taught by a certified teacher and an aide; many of the aides also are certified teachers, Senko said. All of the teachers and aides are bilingual and many are English teachers or teach English as a second language.

"We focus on improving both their (students’) English and Spanish skills," as well as developing their math and writing skills, Senko said.

Many of the teachers, such as John Hagenah, have been with the program for more than 10 years. He has taught at the school fore 13 years, although not all consecutively, he noted.

His first summer at the school as an aide convinced him to switch from his pre-med studies at SUNY Brockport to education.

"These guys were the nicest kids in the whole world that I had ever met," Hagenah remarked. "I fell in love with the kids and the program. They convinced me to be a teacher."

Now, he teaches Spanish at the Leadership Academy in the Rochester City School District. The Lyndonville summer school offers a different teaching environment than in the city, Hagenah remarked.

"The principal makes sure they (students) are in a safe environment where they can learn and excel and where they feel comfortable," he said.

The students follow a schedule similar to a regular school day with physical education provided in the high-school building across the road, Senko said. They are fed breakfast and lunch in the high-school cafeteria as well, she added.

Art and technology classes are offered in the former elementary building, as well as health screenings from Oak Orchard Community Health Center staff, she said.

School days run Monday through Thursday with field trips to such places as Hamlin Beach and the Buffalo Zoo scheduled for every Friday. Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops also visit to provide students with additional activities, Senko added.

In addition to boosting the students’ exposure to different areas of the region and helping with their academic progress, the program aims to build their self-esteem, Senko explained.

While some of the students live in the region year-round, others move around and those transitions to getting to know a new community and make friends are difficult, she said.

"We try to run the school like a family," she noted, adding that she and staff often sit with the students for meals. "We (also) pick up the pieces of the education gap … and give them the tools for success needed as they continue in their school careers."

As an educator, she said that she also sees the goal of public education as producing well-rounded members of society.

"The more education a (student) receives, the better he or she can be contributing in society," Senko said. "Everyone needs to read and write to be able to do that."

Mayra Rosario, 11, of Kendall, said that the program gives the migrant students the extra edge they need to begin school in the fall.

"We learn stuff we’re going to learn in school," she said. "For the younger kids, they can be prepared … and can meet new people who are going to go to the same school."

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