posted June 27, 2013

Cartoon Characters Help Build Character in CASA Summer Program

Wade Gugino and CASA Friends

Character has added meaning in the Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) program at Hope College this summer with the elementary-age students learning life lessons through cartoons.

The activity is part of the “Summer TOON-Up: Using Cartoons to Build Academic Strength and Character” theme woven into CASA’s six-week summer program, which began on Monday, June 17, and will continue through Thursday, July 25.  The emphasis is on patience and responsibility in particular, with materials including flash cards featuring friendly characters, such as a dog and a cat, demonstrating and discussing the concepts—and the children having a chance to discuss the topics and produce art of their own.

The “Summer TOON-Up” materials were developed by Holland-based cartoonist Wade Gugino, a 1992 Hope graduate who is owner and chief executive officer of Googenius, which seeks to foster the use of cartoons in teaching and communicating.  Gugino is also working with the program directly, visiting twice to help the students envision how they might create cartoons and further reflect on the concepts.  As a third emphasis on a character quality, he is also providing the students with copies of “Olympia On Time,” a graphic novel he developed that stresses the importance of punctuality.

CASA, a community organization housed at Hope, provides academic and cultural enrichment for at-risk first- through fifth-grade students. The program, which runs year-round, is intended to improve the students’ academic performance by providing the tools they need to succeed in school.

During the school year, the students meet after school twice per week in one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors, most of whom are Hope students.  During the summer session, CASA runs five classes, each led by a certified teacher and assistant four mornings a week, providing a mixture of academic work as well as enrichment programs.

“It really is an extension of the life-skills program that we do during the academic year,” said Fonda Green, executive director of CASA, referring to this year’s summer theme.  “Our whole belief in the life-skills component is that children need additional skills to be successful in life, and it really is a complement to academic skill building.”

The approach also supports CASA’s emphasis on making the summer program both educational and enjoyable.  Four mornings per week, the first- through fifth-grade students attend classes to help them stay in shape academically as well as a variety of enrichment activities.

“We’re not a camp, and we’re not a summer school,” Green said.  “We’re a blend of both.”

CASA’s summer session is featuring a variety of other activities as well.  The students are being encouraged to exercise and get creative in movement through three sessions of “Groovin’ With Kids,” a program taught by Heather Winia, who is owner of +Fit 4 Life and a 1991 Hope graduate.  During “Thrilling Thursdays,” they’re participating in workshops such as “Discovering Our Differences,” on abilities and disabilities; “Get Your Hands Dirty,” on gardening; “Ba-ha-ha! Mad Scientist Ba-ha-ha!,” featuring science experiments; “Puppet-Making,” during which they make a puppet and develop a story; and “Get Artistic,” exploring Latino artists.  They’re also visiting the Herrick District Library, the Holland Area Arts Council and the college’s biology museum, in addition to attending performances by the Children’s Performance Troupe of Hope Summer Repertory Theatre.

Support for the “Summer TOON-Up” program has been provided in part through a grant to CASA this past fall by the Meemic Foundation.  The Holland Junior Welfare League has provided support for the “Groovin’ With Kids” program.

CASA was established in 1987 by Marge Rivera Bermann and Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) and originally housed at First United Methodist Church. CASA moved to Hope College in 1989, and has its offices and summer classes in Graves Hall and its school-year activities in classrooms in Lubbers Hall. 

The academic-year and summer programs serve Holland and West Ottawa students.  A total of 145 elementary-age students participated in CASA during the 2012-13 year.