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Spartanburg Herald-Journal: Summer program offers District 7 students classes

SPARTANBURG - June 21, 2012 - Students got a hands-on lesson about water filtration Wednesday afternoon at Mary H. Wright Elementary, using common items like coffee filters, rocks and rubber bands to turn muddy, dark water into a clear liquid that could be safely poured into area lakes and streams.

The summertime science lesson was the result of a new partnership between Spartanburg School District 7 and BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life). Three District 7 schools - Mary H. Wright, Chapman Elementary, and Carver Middle - are offering the five-week program this summer to about 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students were identified by teachers and guidance counselors as at risk of falling behind during the summer months.

Rodney Graves, District 7 director of secondary education, said BELL will help educators combat the "achievement gap" that often occurs after students return from summer break.

"Summer learning loss is something we face, not just in District 7, but across the country," Graves said.

For five days each week, BELL scholars will receive 6.5 hours of literacy and math instruction and enrichment. Physical fitness and community service also are key components of the summer program. Friday field trips to area colleges, museums, zoos, and other attractions keep students engaged.

"A huge component is building their confidence and attitude towards learning," said BELL CEO Tiffany Gueye. "If we change their attitude towards it, they'll continue (learning)."

The local sites are among 65 across the nation and the only ones in South Carolina. BELL, a nonprofit organization, and the school district share expenses. Gueye spoke to the importance of a committed school district and a committed group of parents.

Parents visited Mary H. Wright Wednesday afternoon and had the chance to ask Gueye questions about the program during her visit to Spartanburg.

"The parents really do have to carry this forward, and it's great to see that in the spirit of the community here," Gueye said.

Students soaked in the science lesson on Wednesday, dividing into teams and working together to design their water filters. Logan Gray, a rising fourth grader at E.P. Todd School, said she's enjoying the experiments and hand-on learning opportunities.

"Experimenting is surprising. It's thinking, 'Is this going to happen or is that going to happen?'" Gray said. "It makes you smarter and makes you think."