Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Summer program helps students keep skills sharp

Monroe elementary school hopes to end 'summer slide'


Lisa McLaughlin, the principal of Waterloo Elementary School, escorts, from left, sisters Marjhore and Jhalex Hernandez, Cody Metcalf (behind her), Dylan Evans, and Chris McCandlish to the summer skills program at Waterloo. It is held four days a week.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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MONROE -- A visit from the school principal often means trouble for a grade-school student, but for some children at Waterloo Elementary School, spending time with the principal is just a regular part of the afternoon.

Lisa McLaughlin, the principal at Waterloo, spends four days a week volunteering at a free afternoon program at her school to reinforce math and reading skills and busy the students with games and crafts during the summer.

Each afternoon at 1, Ms. McLaughlin has arranged to pick up 12 to 20 students at the Willow Green Community Center near where many of the children live. She then walks them about a mile to the elementary school, and about 3:15 she walks them back. The walking provides exercise for the children, but it is also a service for some of the area's families.

"For the kids that are in poverty, they might not have the means to get here," she said.

Open to all prekindergarten through sixth-grade students at Waterloo, the first-year program tries to cope with the "summer slide," the tendency of students -- even high-performing ones -- to forget over the summer what they learned during the academic year.

For an administrator like Ms. McLaughlin, who conceived the program, one of the major draws is the chance to work closely with the students as a teacher and a mentor, not just as the principal. "It's a calling," she said.

Some of the students who come, she explained, also attend summer school to help improve their performance, but others are just there for a little supplementary practice to stay sharp.

"We want to keep them where we left them, and not have them fall backwards," she said.

The students are required to clock 30 minutes on an educational program called "Dreambox," which reinforces basic math skills.

Dylan Evans, 8, a third grader at Waterloo, knows exactly how the program works.

"You have to go to different stations and solve the problems," he explained, answering some math problems to demonstrate.

Dylan and fellow student Marjhorie Hernandez, 7, both said they enjoyed using the program.

Besides teaching math, the computer time is designed to provide reliable Internet access for students who might not have it at home.

"For those parents whose Internet isn't working, who have an interest in their kid's education, they know they can get it here," said Ms. McLaughlin.

When their "Dreambox" time is done, students can read books, play outside, or participate in the "Totlot," a program where college student volunteers supervise games and crafts with the children.

The students are also learning to cultivate a vegetable garden, said Ms. McLaughlin, and they're allowed to take home some of the veggies they grow.

Ron Riggs, a fourth-grade teacher at Waterloo, and Cathy Albano, a parent and staff member, also volunteer a few days a week with the program, said Ms. McLaughlin.

Contact Casey Sumner at: or 419-724-6084.

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