District 13

School on Saturday? You bet.


After spending five days a week engrossed in English, math, history and science, many children don’t even want to think about school on a Saturday. But for 135 students in District 13, school is exactly where they want to be.

The district is holding its first Saturday enrichment program in partnership with SCOPE Educational Services. The Winter Explorations Program includes four workshops — French, Spanish, Kitchen Science and Arts and Crafts — and runs for five weeks at the James A. Dever School with classes ending this Saturday.

“It has been a success,” said Denise DeMeo, director of the program. “No one has said a negative thing.”

DeMeo, a second-grade teacher at Dever, said this was a pilot program to gauge the community’s interest in a Saturday enrichment program. She said the response was very good, and hopes to offer an expanded program in the fall. She said teachers in the district already have ideas for future workshops.

For several years, parents in the district have been asking for a foreign language program. DeMeo said because of that, it was a priority to include that in this enrichment program, and two teachers from the Central High School District were brought in. Josephine Evola, who teaches at Memorial Junior High School, led the Spanish instruction. Allison Kaminsky, a permanent substitute, taught French. She is a certified French teacher and has even lived in France.

Kaminsky, who taught one class of students ranging from kindergarten through sixth-grade, said this program has been a great experience. “I just love the idea of introducing a foreign language at such an early age,” she said.

In her class, students have been learning the days and months, colors and numbers, and how to hold a basic conversation. For the last class, Kaminsky will expose them to French food.

Lisa Phillips has been teaching the arts and crafts class. She has had students make buttons, picture frames, Chinese New Year fans, heart baskets and Valentine’s Day cards.

Phillips said the students have always comes to her class ready to participate and get their hands dirty. “What’s not to enjoy? It’s art,” she said. “It’s creative. There’s some instruction but it’s letting them enjoy themselves.”

Nicole Wykes, a fifth-grader at the James A. Dever School, looks forward to Saturday arts and crafts. “Here I can do things that are going to be messy at home,” she said. “I also get to stretch my imagination.”

Evan Franco, a third-grader at the Wheeler Avenue School, enrolled in the science class because he wanted to learn more about the world. “We get to make things that we didn’t even know you could make,” he said. Evan and his brother, Julian, a second-grader, took the class together.

The class was led by Joseph Consolazio, a technology teacher in District 13 who also works with SCOPE’s after-school program. “We decided a science class would be interesting to them but normal science wasn’t going to do,” he said, adding that the mantra was “the dirtier the better.”

Every experiment, whether it was building a soda-bottle volcano, making glue or creating a rainbow in glass, has been something the children can do at home with common household items.

Parents said they welcomed the opportunity for their children to further their education on Saturdays. Emmy Saracino, a fourth-grader at Dever, was in the Spanish class. “I thought it’s a great start to learn another language early on,” her mother, Debbie, said. “They learn faster when they’re younger.”

Patty Quinn, whose daughter, Erin, also a fourth-grader at Dever, agreed. “We live in a multi-cultural world,” she said. “It’s very important to known more than one language.”

Renan Charles-Pierre’s family comes from Haiti and many of his relatives speak Creole. That’s why he took French, so he could better communicate with them. “My mom said if I took French it would be easier to speak Creole,” he said, adding that he has already learned a lot in just a few weeks.

DeMeo said in addition to learning, the children have been making friends with their peers from the district’s other elementary schools.

She said the Explorations program was truly an enrichment opportunity and she looks forward to growing it next year. “The children learned things they never would have been able to learn during the school year,” she said. “It’s everything that you want.”