Charleston Promise summer program helps students who need it most

Heather Holmes, an Oakland elementary school teacher, and kindergarten student Traevon Hartwell work on a lesson aimed at improving phonics at a new summer program this year for kids in grades K-3 that Charleston Promise Neighborhood is hosting the nonprofit serves in partnership with the Charleston County School District.

Rising fourth-grader Aaliyah Mikell likes reading and understands its importance.

"It's good to read," Mikell said, peering out from behind the book "Happy Birthday Moon." "It helps you rise up."

Mikell is one of nearly 200 students from four high-poverty schools in Charleston County enrolled in a new summer program aimed at improving reading, writing and math.

The Charleston Promise Neighborhood Learning Community Extended Summer Program is part of the ongoing partnership between the nonprofit Charleston Promise Neighborhood and the Charleston County School District.

Charleston Promise Neighborhood is a nonprofit organization aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty in a 5.6-square-mile area of Charleston County. The group has partnered with the school district to help improve student achievement at four public schools, including Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School, Mary Ford Elementary, James Simons Elementary and Chicora School of Communications.

LaTisha Vaughn-Brandon, assistant associate superintendent of the school district's Charleston Promise Neighborhood Learning Community, said specific students in grades K-3 at each of the four schools were targeted for enrollment in the program based on low standardized test scores in reading, language and math. Their grades and reading levels were also factors.

"We want to stop summer regression," said program Director Keilya Pringle. "We want to make sure students keep making progress."

The program, which is free for students, began June 11 and will run until July 24. Charleston Promise Neighborhood is funding the camp at a cost of around $145,000, which includes the pay for 25 teachers plus bus transportation to bring students to Sanders-Clyde in downtown Charleston where the program is being held.

Students attend classes from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Thursday where they receive lessons in reading and math. They also get to have a little fun with dance, physical education and art classes. Pringle said classes were capped at no more than 12 students so teachers can give students more individualized attention.

The students take reading assessments each week to track their progress. So far the program seems to be working.

"They are showing significant growth each week," Pringle said.

Part of the focus of the camp is making sure students are engaged in what they're learning, Pringle said, which teachers do with more hands-on activities. In one third-grade math class, teachers used brightly colored plastic eggs and neon pipe cleaners to teach lessons in measurement. In a kindergarten reading class, students used arts and crafts to connect images with words and improve their phonics and vocabulary.

"We try and make it fun," said kindergarten teacher Stephanie Shaw. "We want them to enjoy the program. And this is our summer, too, so we want to have fun."

"I like when we rhyme," said kindergartner Ronyierre Farmer, adding that she likes the hands-on activities. "We get to cut stuff up and glue it."

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at