For most kids, summer vacation is just that – summer vacation. But for 40 Plantersville Middle School students, it’s a time for learning some new skills. Those new skills range from the study of fossils to art to cooking. Funded by the 21st Century grants program, it is described on the U.S. Department of Education website, which awards the grants: “This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.” And for the month of June, Plantersville Middle School is officially a Department of Education learning center. Four mornings a week, Monday through Thursday, the fifth- through eighth graders enjoy learning in a relaxed environment that includes breakfast and, on Thursdays, a lunch prepared by the students. Tuesday morning, science teacher David Warren oversaw students cracking open matrixes he made up of plaster of Paris with “fossils” such as buffalo teeth and bobcat claws inside. The students might as well have found gold nuggets inside the white balls; they excitedly showed their treasures to Warren and their fellow students. “No, I buy the claws,” Warren said with a laugh when asked if he collected the artifacts himself. He said last week the parking lot where they were breaking the matrixes was white with the plaster powder and shards left over from the students’ efforts. Coming weeks will include learning about American Indians and pirates. In a classroom of the school, Lindsey Turner, a fifth-grade math and science teacher, guided several students who stood at the windows busily tracing onto pieces of paper: “They’re creating mirror images,” said Turner. Kohen Thompson, 10, questioned Turner about the process of making the image. “It’s whatever I want it to be,” Thompson eventually concluded about the project. That statement embodies one of the aims of the 21st Century experience: It offers what the students choose to get out of it. In yet another classroom, a group of eight students were planning what to prepare and serve for the Thursday lunch; some were on computers searching for food sales at local grocery stores while others were discussing the different options. Christina McCurdy, seventh-grade English teacher, and Katie Bowen, Life Skills teacher, explained that the students – the groups revolve each week between the different subject areas – are budgeted $50 to plan, purchase, prepare and serve the meals, usually numbering 45. Last week’s menu included hot dogs, chips, cookies and Kool Aid. Anna Weldon, 11, manned the whiteboard, where she had written down the meal options and what the various ingredients were going to cost; spaghetti was the leading option as of late Tuesday morning. Some of the students said they actually have experience in the kitchen, learned at home from their parents and grandparents. Dagarrius Clifton, 12 and a group leader in the classroom, said he had cooked eggs and hamburgers on the grill, while Nabria Orr, also 12, has experience cooking the same things. Delantis Fields, 12, said this is the second summer for him at 21st Century; he has prepared eggs, bacon, sausage and toast at home for his family. Ashanti Donegan, 13, learned to cook pasta: “Spaghetti,” she said. “My grandmama and mama taught me. I am in my world,” she bragged a little bit. Academic coach Cindy Tomlin, who is coordinating the program, said there are some openings in the program for the final two weeks. She said the only requirements are the participants must be rising fifth through eighth graders and students at Plantersville Middle School. Any K-12 student is welcome to eat a free breakfast Monday through Thursday, 9-9:30 a.m.
For more information about 21st Century, call the school at 842-4690.
C. Richard Cotton
243 County Road 783
Saltillo MS 38866