Summer program helps second-graders develop reading and writing skills

Published in the March 29 – April 11, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo courtesy Mt. Madonna YMCA
Children play games at the the Super Power Summer Camp program in Gilroy.

Andrea Rathi feels strongly about making sure South Valley students stay off the streets and have adult supervision after the last bell rings for the day and they step out of the classroom. Her job as the Mt. Madonna YMCA’s after-school program director impacts the lives of hundreds of at-risk children in the Morgan Hill and Gilroy unified school districts.

“Honestly, it’s a huge passion of mine. I was suppose to be a teacher and I started working with kids through the Y and I never left,” she said. “I started when I was 18 years old about 8 years ago, so kids that I worked with are now in college. They still see you and recognize you and it’s an amazing feeling.”

Sometimes the students involved in after-school as well as summer day-camp programs come back from college to Morgan Hill and Gilroy and work with younger kids, completing the circle, the Gilroy resident said.

The YMCA at the end of February closed its month-long annual fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $219,000 to pay for the after-school and summer camp programs. Money went as well to senior center lunches and other senior activities in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. So popular have these community service programs grown that the YMCA target fundraising goal rose from $207,000 in 2016. Although the fundraising organization and activities are focused in Morgan Hill, with teams meeting at the Centennial Recreation Center, the money raised goes to grants that benefit Gilroy students and seniors as well.

In Morgan Hill, YMCA grants for after-school program activities benefit students at Barrett Elementary School, P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy and San Martin Gwinn Environmental Science Academy. El Toro Elementary School will soon bring in YMCA-funded after-school programs. In the summer, the YMCA puts on a Summer Achievement program at P.A. Walsh that helps second-graders develop reading and writing skills as they have fun with in a summer day-camp environment.

In Gilroy, the grants provide after-school programs that benefit students in Antonio Del Bouno, El Roble, Las Animas, and Rucker elementary schools. During the vacation break, the Super Power Summer Camp program serves more than 800 students from kindergarten to 8th grade at Glen View Elementary and Brownell Middle School.

Three girls read during a YMCA after-school program.
Photo courtesy YMCA

The after-school and summer camp programs gives students a safe place to go instead of being home alone or roaming the city without adult supervision. It also enables young people to build self-confidence as it gives them an additional 80 days of academic learning. It also helps lower the rate of student drop-outs and increases the rate of high school and college graduation for South Valley youth.

The Super Power Summer Camp program is a collaboration between the Gilroy Unified School District, Youth Alliance and the YMCA, Rathi said. Fundraising is important for this free program because many low-income families with both parents working would not be able to oversee their second-grader kids during the vacation time in July and August.
“I think it’s important because it helps support those who cannot come to our programs, and it helps us serve more people in our community,” Rathi said.

The families the after-school and summer programs serve are low-income, but they donate the most because they want to contribute and keep the programs going, she said. Although the annual fundraising campaign ended Feb. 28, raising money for the various programs never ends, she said.

“It’s an ongoing thing for us because we want to make sure that we can help everybody who comes to our doors and that we can support them in some ways,” she said.

Last summer, 36 students participated in the YMCA’s six-week Summer Achievement Program at P.A. Walsh. They started the day at 8 a.m. and were picked up by their parents at 4:30 p.m. The hours in between were filled with adventures in reading as well as getting to meet leaders of the community such as police officers, firefighters and volunteers with Morgan Hill’s Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center showing them various wild animals.

There were social activities for the kids, too. For Juan Dominguez, 7, a second grader, the best part of the day was playing games, such as banana tag, on the campus playground. But he also liked to crack open a book and discover the adventure waiting for him on the pages.

“The best part of reading is learning,” he said. “It’s important to learn to read.”

Second-grader Khloe Klamm, 7, enjoyed the more creative activities of the YMCA Summer Achievement Program. “We do arts and crafts. We learned about bees today,” she said.
She enjoyed meeting Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate because he gave the children coloring books, she said. And Dominguez was impressed with the uniformed cop who visited the children because he was friendly and drove in a big, black SUV. “He turned the siren on. It was loud,” he said.

Many of the students with both parents working would be home alone during the summer months, which might lead to dangerous situations for the children, said Michael Shoesmith, site director at P.A. Walsh for the YMCA program.

“In this day and age, it’s not something that we want to happen,” he said.


The program allows for a small ratio of teachers to students, which means the teachers and aides are really able to hone into what obstacles that student is facing, he said.

“Every child is unique. They have their own issues and own challenges they have to overcome to advance their reading and writing and other learning,” he said. “So having those really small ratios and the fact that it is a free program which is very hard to find for many of these families in low-income communities, it allows them to have a place for the kids to go during the summer.”

About 75 percent of the donations raised in the annual campaign come from individuals and families giving between $50 and $100. The donations provided from generous businesses and individuals in the Gilroy and Morgan Hill communities makes P.A. Walsh’s achievement program such as a success that it will continue a third summer this year, he said.

“The best thing is that I know the money we’re raising goes to a very good cause,” he said of the fundraising activities. “For me personally, I have a very strong interest in the fact that the Summer Achievement Program is 100 percent funded through the campaign. For me the success of that program is what drives me. A lot of people donate out of the goodness of their heart. The YMCA is important to the community. People know it’s a good cause to look to if you want to help the community.”


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