Maryland School Offers Unique Summer Program

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SILVER SPRING, MD. — For the first time, St. Francis International School, sponsored by the Province’s St. Camillus Church, as well as St. Mark and Our Lady of Vietnam parishes, is holding summer school.

With 50 students enrolled, Gerald Hopeck, OFM, director of the summer academy and assistant principal of the SFIS, said the June 11-to-Aug. 10 program is going well.

Gerald said that the archdiocese asked him to start a summer school to meet the growing need of students with learning disabilities and those for whom English is a second language.

SFIS principal Toby Harkelroad said that the St. Francis Summer Academy, run at nearby St. Mark’s School, is a model program in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Meeting Special Needs
The school was asked to be a model summer program because of its uniqueness in meeting special needs year-round, Gerald added. Only in its second year, SFIS is not the type of Catholic school where kids have to be perfect, according to Gerald. Providing a solid education, along with family services, like counseling, the archdiocese knew SFIS could reach the whole family, he added. “It’s a Franciscan value.”

“We were approached because of our mindset,” he said. “Our mindset is different. It’s a ministry that begins not with the child but with the parents. If you don’t help the parents’ problems, you can’t help the children’s problems.”

SFIS does just that. Gerald sees his ministry, in part, as reaching both parents and children. The parents are comforted in knowing that the school understands their child, and students are excited to attend because it is easy to learn. Based on a model that doesn’t give grades, but rather, indicates whether a child mastered, achieved, or needs work in a subject, takes the stress out of learning, said Gerald. Class sizes are also small, allowing more personalized learning.

SFIS is also running a week-long summer camp, Camp Wohelo, which begins Aug. 10, serving children from the school, the parish and the homeless community. “We’re giving kids living in shelters a way to have a fun camp experience,” said Gerald.

The theme is “Knowing Who and What You Are.” The goal is for kids, ages 3 to 14, to have academic enrichment in a safe learning environment and coning to know who they are and how they can contribute to society, said Gerald.

Harkelroad added: “Camp Wohelo is run by Camp Fire USA and offers summer camp and service learning experiences. This year, Camp Fire USA will combine several programs into one at our St. Mark building. The children in need will be joined by children from SFIS and elsewhere for exciting summer camp experiences that include weekly field trips on the St. Camillus Church bus.”

Also, for the first time this summer, the camp is the recipient of the federal hot lunch program, which will offer breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack.

Four unemployed St. Camillus parishioners are working in the summer program, along with 12 teachers. Erick Lopez, OFM, of St. Camillus Parish, spent a week working with teen volunteers who helped at the summer camp in mid July.

Other School News
Summer is also a busy time for building and upgrading at the school. “We expect our enrollment to take a significant jump from the 447 we ended the year with, said Harkelroad, which was already a big jump from the first day enrollment of 332 in 2010.

The school will make big improvements at the St. Camillus campus, including installation of a new computer lab of 35 new Acer PCs, SMART boards and digital projectors so that every classroom from kindergarten to eighth grade is equipped. It is also acquiring a mobile iPad lab through a partnership with the St. Camillus Faith Formation Program and a Benevolence Fund grant from the Province.

A new playground is also being built, thanks to a KaBOOM! community build program. The playground is being funded through grants from the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and the Shaw Family Foundation, along with generous fundraising and donations from school families. Information about the school can be found on the Facebook pages of St. Camillus Parish and of St. Francis International School.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.