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After-School and Summer Programs Are Addressed at Community Seminar

Expanding summer programs for low-income elementary and middle school students and finding programs to support the diversity of students in high school music and art programs were two of the topics that were explored by participants of the Princeton After-School and Summer Partnership Program's seminar on Saturday, January 31.

The five-hour discussion, which was held at the Princeton Theological Seminary, brought together faculty, parents, and board representatives from various community groups, including the Princeton Regional Schools, Corner House Counseling Center, the Princeton YMCA, Princeton Young Achievers, Princeton Recreation Department, and the Princeton Human Services Commission.

Princeton After-School and Summer Partnership wants "to close the academic achievement gap by coordinating Princeton's educational, recreational, and social resources through comprehensive pre-kindergarten through grade 12 programs for disadvantaged youth and families."

The group, which is comprised of community group representatives that have been working together for approximately one year, believes that by closing this gap, there will be an increase in academic achievement levels and a promotion of positive social, emotional, and physical growth in students.

The approximate 60 participants gathered to identify the utmost concerns for Princeton's after-school and summer programs. Twenty different topics were identified and discussed in small, one-hour group sessions.

The seminar was developed this way so that the participants could decide what the community should put at the forefront of its concerns for students in Princeton, said Kim McReynolds, programs specialist for Princeton Regional Schools.

Among those in attendance were three members of the Princeton Regional School Board: Joann Cunningham, Jeff Spear, and Walter Bliss. Heading the event were Jack Roberts of the Princeton Recreation Department, Gary DeBlasio of Corner House, and Ms. McReynolds.

Many of the community groups were represented by parents and school faculty, and not just area officials, said Ms. McReynolds.

"There was an effort made to get a variety of individuals to share in the discussions," she said.

One of the largest topics of discussion was how to help middle school and high school students use after school as a setting for arts experiences, such as instrumental music, vocal music, film, video, and drama. How to offset these costs so that low income families could participate was listed as a key concern.

"We want all children to have the same opportunities," said Ms. McReynolds.

Finding transportation to and from the activities that the partnership hopes to expand and create was also a key issue discussed. Some of the programs they hope to advance include after-school and summer programs for Hispanic students, college exposure for high school students, volunteer services through the junior National Honor Society, activities for students aged 12 to 15 from 3 to 6 p.m., and after-school homework programs.

At the end of the seminar, all the groups came together to identify the best ways to achieve their goals, and what hurdles still exist.

Other needs in the community identified at the seminar were the need for teachers and counselors to work to close the achievement gap; the need to overlap and connect classes with after-school programs; the need for those with money and resources to communicate with low-income families; and the need to provide opportunities for children and teen service opportunities.

Ways in which students of low-income families can benefit more from their education was also discussed. Expanding academic programs, summer camps, enrichment programs, and educational opportunities for children at all grade levels was an issue that the group decided needs to be examined.

Discussions of how Princeton is unique to other communities and how many of the district's problems are found within other school districts was also identified.

All Princeton community groups will receive a consolidated list of the topics that were discussed by the end of February, said Ms. McReynolds. Each group will then follow up by having their own discussion of the items on this list.

According to Ms. McReynolds, a lot of headway was made on the issues, and the partnership will continue to move forward with common goals.

"I think there was a lot of good conversation and we learned some things," said Ms. McReynolds.

Candace Braun

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