A summer learning program is having a big impact on kids, thanks to the work of the Syracuse Library Foundation and a little guidance from the Nebraska Community Foundation.
Kids who are involved in the Syracuse Summer Blast get the chance to learn about wildlife. “I think this program, and this ‘Into The Wild’ course is amazing, it’s super beneficial,” instructor Sophia Gobber said. There are many other topics covered as well. “We have a class called ‘wet, wild and wacky science’, where kids make root beer, and they make ice cream,” educator Joy Stilmock said. “We added a spy academy this year. The kids are working on codes, and decoding things. We had space adventures, where they looked at lots of things in space, like planets, comets, and the sun.”
Stilmock understands the value of education. She served as principal of Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca High School for 14 years. She understands why kids need learning opportunities, even in summer. “One of my dreams was to start a Bright Lights-type of program here in Syracuse,” Stilmock said. “Many people in Syracuse were driving their kids to Lincoln to participate in Bright Lights, which is an amazing program.” When the Syracuse Library Foundation, which is an affiliated fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation, sat down to brainstorm, the fund advisory committee made expanding a summer learning program a top priority. “When we decided to take our endowment dollars and place them with the Nebraska Community Foundation, that opened doors for us,” Stilmock said. “The foundation worked with us to make the connections we needed to to make this happen.” NCF facilitated a meeting with the Lincoln summer learning program Bright Lights. Bright Lights staff worked directly with Syracuse leaders to start the summer blast in 2017. “This is our fourth year, and we’ve grown every single year, this being our biggest amount of growth,” Stilmock said. “We have 19 classes we offered this year, and we had 101 students participate.”
The students really enjoy being a part of the program. “We got to make rice krispie treats and eat them,” 5th grader Gavin Wardyn said. The rice krispie treats were part of a class teaching kids about rock formation. 5th grader Molly Faith Annaernie says her week of learning was incredible. “It was amazing and I love it. In science class we got to dissect things, and we did a lot of fun projects and experiments, and in the vet class we are learning about diseases, and different parts of a dog,” Annaernie said “It’s really fun.”
Not only did 2020 see record-breaking participation. Some students got to see their classmates for the first time since COVID-19 hit. Excitement for this “summer blast” program is building in Syracuse. “We are really excited about how the program has grown,” Stilmock said. ” We have a lot of community support.” Organizers of the program believe that support and growth to continue well into the future.