posted June 5, 2007

Grants Support CASA Summer Program

Local elementary-age children will be learning about the natural world in their own neighborhood this summer through a grant to the Children's After School Achievement (CASA) program at Hope College from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.

And then they'll go into the new school year well-equipped thanks to further support from the Holland Junior Welfare League.

The Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area has awarded CASA $6,600 to help underwrite "CASA Goes Wild: Amazing Lessons in Nature," which will be featured throughout CASA's summer program, running Monday, June 18, through Thursday, July 26. The theme will provide the framework for a variety of activities for the approximately 110 second- through fifth-grade students the program anticipates hosting.

"We want to teach the children about the nature right around them - right in their back yards, in the school playground and when they walk down the street," said Fonda Green, the program's executive director. Green noted that this summer's theme has been inspired by Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods," which recommends direct exposure to nature as essential for healthy childhood development and for physical and emotional health.

This summer's activities will involve a variety of organizations, and will include site visits to the Outdoor Discovery Center and Ottawa County parks, a nature project with the Holland Area Arts Council, birdhouse building with Evergreen Commons, and tours and a reading club with Herrick District Library. Highlights on campus will include presentations by Hope Summer Repertory Theatre's children's theatre, and activities coordinated through the college's science camp program.

The $857.50 award from the Holland Junior Welfare League will provide the students with materials in anticipation of the next school year. The grant is helping underwrite the purchase of backpacks and a variety of supplies, such as pencils, paper, markers and rulers, for the students to use when they go back to school in the fall.

CASA, a community organization housed at Hope, focuses on academic and cultural enrichment. The program, which runs year-round, is intended to improve the academic performance of at-risk students by providing the tools they need to succeed in school.

The students meet after school twice per week in one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors throughout the school year, and in the mornings during the six-week summer session. The academic-year and summer programs serve Holland and West Ottawa students.

CASA's accomplishments include increased reading scores in 94 percent of students since enrollment, 93 percent daily average attendance rates and "good to excellent" daily participation scores of 98 percent. A total of 140 students participated in the 2006-07 school-year program.

Established in 1987 by Marge Rivera Bermann and Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP), CASA was originally housed at First United Methodist Church. The program moved to Hope College in 1989. CASA will celebrate its 20th anniversary this fall.