Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 36
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
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Princeton Young Achievers Get Ready for School Year

Dilshanie Perera

Poised right at the beginning of a new school year, with a benefit concert by the Bacon Brothers coming up next week, Princeton Young Achievers (PYA), an academically-oriented after school program serving more than 100 children in grades K to 5, has much to be excited about.

Executive Director Pamela Elmi highlighted PYA’s position in the community, pointing out that the “unique thing is that we’re neighborhood-based, and have learning centers in public housing neighborhoods in Princeton.” It’s a “trusted environment,” she added, “because we’re in the neighborhoods where the children reside.”

“We teach them to have pride in their neighborhoods and improve the spaces they are in,” reported Ms. Elmi, who joined the organization as its sole full-time staff member last year.

Taking these lessons to heart, the students partnered with the Arts Council of Princeton to design and install a mosaic in the stairwell of the Pannell Learning center, one of PYA’s three sites. Princeton Community Village and Redding Circle house the other two learning centers.

Board President Clayton Marsh describes the partnership with the Arts Council as “one of the happiest developments for us.” Through their joint “Creative Fridays” initiative, PYA was able to expand its operation to all five days of the week, with an arts focus on Fridays.

When he started working with the Young Achievers in 2002, Mr. Marsh said that he and his colleagues realized they “needed to improve the visibility of the organization” and since becoming president of the board two years ago, his main efforts besides raising visibility have been to “expand the donor base, educate the community, and to really get people excited about the organization and the kids.”

Of the experience, Mr. Marsh declared, “It has proven to be extremely rewarding. It has developed my understanding of and connection to Princeton in ways that I never could have even imagined …. It is a pleasure to see teachers and kids working together to improve educational and academic skills in a way that’s not laborious or tedious,” he added.

This year PYA celebrates its 15th anniversary and hosts its second major benefit event. Actor Kevin Bacon and his brother, composer Michael Bacon, will be playing a concert with their band, the Bacon Brothers, on September 13 in Richardson Auditorium. A question and answer session with the Bacons will follow the show. Proceeds will go to support programming at PYA, help with operating costs, and assist with staff training.

Initiatives for the upcoming year include an emphasis on childhood nutrition, becoming adept at the new math system, and instilling the love of reading in students, noted Ms. Elmi.

Citing projects and programs that PYA has hosted in the past, Mr. Marsh enthused, “we would love to do more and more,” adding that PYA “could be a hub where we partner with other non-profits to better serve the kids.”

Previously, the organization joined with Princeton University’s engineering students to learn about the “principles of mechanical timekeeping” and understand the way clocks work. The University students were currently working to restore a 19th century clock tower in Trenton, Mr. Marsh reported.

Over the past summer, the Momo Group sponsored a summer camp at Fernbrook Farms for PYA students to learn about organic farming, food, and its production.

Leading a corps that includes 18 part-time instructors and 75 volunteers, Ms. Elmi and her staff currently work with 110 children. They are looking for a few more volunteers in order to have a one-to-one student-adult ratio when working on reading skills.

Underscoring the strength of the program, Ms. Elmi noted that graduates of the program often come back to be volunteers.

Overall, PYA’s goal is to “make strides in closing the minority achievement gap in education,” said Ms. Elmi, who projected that “we’re going to reach that goal this year.”

“We might get to a point where they surpass that,” added Ms. Elmi, who mentioned that a new $35,000 grant to expand the computer lab will allow students to gain familiarity with PC, Linux, and Mac operating systems.

“Once they go out into the world, they will be better prepared,” she declared.

To support PYA, and to purchase tickets for the Bacon Brothers concert, go to For more information about the organization, visit

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