Summer lunches include additional reading ‘power’ for students
June 23 – Young people in the Dalton’s Bay Drive neighborhood not only received meals recently, but also books, and got to read, play games and do activities with students at Dalton State College throughout the Power Lunches initiative.
Sarai Habana believes she will be better prepared for school because of these summer enrichment opportunities, the sixth-grader from North Whitfield Middle School said. Habana had been a regular for several summers at her Power Lunches site, enjoying both the free books and the food.
“I love books and reading,” especially the “I Survived” series of historical children’s fiction novels by American author Lauren Tarshis, she said. She particularly enjoys “reading aloud to my (brother)”.
Whitfield County schools combine free summer meals with opportunities to read and collect books. A list of times and locations is available online at https://www.wcsga.net/summer-reading. On Summer Fridays, Dalton State Education students visit various sites to interact with children as part of the Power Lunches program.
“It really benefits the students, by filling this summer gap,” said Monica Santiesteban, who studies early childhood education at Dalton State. “They can’t pick up a book in the summer otherwise.”
“You could tell how excited they were,” said Alondra Barragan, who also studies early childhood education at Dalton State. “They ran to us and asked us, ‘Shall I take a book?'”
Power Lunches was started almost a decade ago, but expanded a few years ago thanks to a grant from the Governor’s Office for Student Success, which provided not only books but articles like puzzles and skipping ropes, according to Stephanie Hogshead, director of volunteer engagement for United Way of Northwest Georgia. “In the last few years we’ve had 10-12 Power Lunch sites, (but in 2020) we (had) 30.”
The program is growing again, starting this summer, thanks to a $ 10,000 innovative education grant from the Innovation Fund Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that supports the work of the Governor’s Office for Student Achievement.
Whitfield County Schools will use the grant to expand the program, which is aimed at students from birth to fifth grade, to approximately 100 middle and high school students, as Summer Silent Book Clubs will be incorporated in a bid to stimulate student engagement and fight against the summer slippage in reading and comprehension, depending on the school system. Whitfield County Schools will also use funds to buy more books, create flexible seating to create inviting spaces in school libraries, and offer book club participation incentives.
This is the second summer that Santiesteban has participated in the Energy Lunches, and she is already seeing some benefits from the grant, she said. “They let us plan our lessons with the kids, and we were able to get all the books we wanted.”
Books and lessons are also merged with academic content, like science, Barragan said. “We made a catapult with them, and they also have materials to make one at home.”
For Santiesteban, there is immeasurable value in going to communities to work with young people, she said, noting: “It’s fun to connect with them.”
And that “helps us to partner with them,” Barragan said. For teachers, it is crucial to ‘see where (the students) are coming from to understand their point of view’.
Barragan, a graduate of North Murray High School, always wanted to be an educator, she said. “It turns me on so much when they’re excited to learn.”
Santiesteban, a product of Dalton Public Schools, “had so many teachers who impacted me, and I want to be that teacher” for the students, she said. “I want to make a difference in their life, because so many teachers have made a difference in my life.”