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Principal makes a pitch for scholarship, stability for students

NORTH LIBERTY– Julie Robinson, principal at Penn Elementary School in North Liberty, has a double vision.
After 26 years in the field of education, 25 of them spent helping to shape an excellent educational setting for children at Penn, she understands how important a stable environment is to children’s learning.
She also knows that in the increasingly hectic and busy lifestyles of today’s families, trying to fit everything into a consistent routine is difficult, at best.
Therefore, beginning in July, Robinson will reduce her principal position to half time and take on a new role– and two new, related projects– she hopes will provide stability to families whose lives are disrupted by unavoidable circumstances and help others to achieve a more consistent, effective daily routine, even when school is dismissed.
First, Robinson has launched a venture she named Prime Time Learning Academy, with the goal of providing quality wrap-around services for children this summer and after school beginning next fall. The idea is to offer enrichment activities using project-based learning to strengthen kids’ academics.
“There will be tutoring opportunities, if needed, and we will also be taking real-life projects guided by the kids’ interests, and fold in reading, writing and science into those projects,” said Robinson.
For example, children may choose to plant a garden; since the academy doesn’t begin until June, the kids would have to research the planting process, especially for crops planted later in the growing season. If they decide to harvest the produce and sell it at a local farmers’ market, then money management skills, marketing and math will be inherent lessons.
To get started, themed sessions are planned each afternoon, when children will be able to work on projects and activities that relate to the week’s theme, such as Myth-Busting Science, the Olympics, or the Great Outdoors.
The academy will add small group classes, taught by expert volunteers, to allow children to explore various academic, recreational and life-skill disciplines like dance, Spanish language, book club discussions, book writing, geography, sewing, music lessons or model building. Each day ends with fun, group-building activities like arts and crafts or board games.
There is even an extended-day option, so kids can be in a structured, supportive and fun environment until parents arrive later.
“It’s so hard today for parents whose after school schedule is so packed, my hope is that we can provide them with a fun, enriching environment, where we can help the kids with homework, school projects, and practice their musical instruments,” said Robinson. “The goal is that when kids are picked up at 5:30, a lot of those things have been taken care of, so family time can happen.”
Prime Time Learning Academy, which begins this summer, is just one part of Robinson’s vision for success in school.
In order for children to be successful in school, they have to be there.
For some families, job transitions, lack of transportation, housing difficulties or even overseas military deployment can mean multiple moves during a single school year, sometimes out of Penn school’s attendance area. To keep this from happening, Robinson is launching project STAY– Same Teacher All Year.
“The idea is to coordinate community resources to keep kids in their home school attendance area,” she said. “There has been a loss of the extended family. Before, kids could always stay with grandparents. Today, that works for some, but not all.”
Robinson said Penn school has experienced agrowing trend of families who leave the district during the school year because they have been evicted, becoming temporarily homeless and having to double up with families members or friends, or having to find new housing very quickly.
“The available shelters are often full,” she said. “And even if there is room, a shelter is not a place that is conducive to kids doing home work, practicing band lessons or getting a good night’s sleep. There often is not a good option available for families in a hard situation.”
Therefore, Robinson envisions bringing community-based organizations together to provide a temporary home for children to live while an affected family obtains permanent housing.
“If they know there is a place they can trust, with someone they know, it can allow parents to get back on their feet more quickly,” she said. “It takes away at least that worry.”
Kris Hynek, of the North Liberty Family Resource Center located at Penn school, said such difficulties impact school success as well.
“My biggest job is to cut down barriers that keep kids from learning,” said Hynek. “A child’s home life comes to school every day. So we have to do we can to help them learn, and not worry about whether there will be food or what happens if the water gets shut off. We do what we can to help kids worry less so they can concentrate on math.”
Hynek is also concerned about truancy; part of her job is to see that kids attend school daily, and she does her best to keep them coming all year.
“Every time you put a child in a new school, it can set them back six months of learning. That’s why it’s so important for a child to have the same teacher, the same expectations and the same style of teaching,” Hynek said. “There is a relationship and a bond that builds between teacher and student that helps support the child.
The relationship between teacher and parent is also key.
“The longer the child is here and the more involved the parent becomes, the more the parent and teacher can work together to support the whole child,” Hynek said.
To ensure that consistency, Project STAY will be modeled after the Ronald McDonald House framework; instead of furnishing a comfortable, home-like environment for families whose children are undergoing treatment in a place far from home, STAY would do the same for families who are forced to relocate. As of today, Robinson is still working to find a location to house Project STAY.
Meanwhile, Robinson and a growing cadre of volunteers see the benefits of eventually tying project STAY and the Prime Time Learning Academy together, to deliver a host of services and resources to children and their families that will help contribute to success ver the summer and all year.
More information about Prime Time Learning Academy can be found at www.primetimeacademy.com, or contact Robinson by calling 626-2234, or emailing Julie@pretimeacademy.com. Registration for fall sessions will be open soon. To inquire about scholarship opportunities– either to donate, or to take advantage of scholarship funding– call Kris Hynek at 626-1154. There is still the opportunity to sponsor 2011 summer scholarships.