Each summer, the South Colonie Central School district offers an Extended School Year (ESY) program at Forest Park Elementary School. The students who are recommended for this program are typically enrolled in the most supportive programs the school has to offer during the academic school year. The goal of this program is to ensure the continued academic success of the students who are eligible to participate. The ESY program is also able to offer students the opportunity to participate in physical education classes, as well as continue to receive the support services for which they qualify during the school year. Some of these programs include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech, and social work—all of which are designed to improve a student’s ability to learn, play, and socialize with one another. “We really want to foster an environment where students feel safe and supported,” said Forest Park Principal Jill Penn. “We aim to help our students develop tools that will become the basis of other life skills they will learn in order to succeed beyond just the classroom.”
One main component of this program that directly relates to the success of these objectives is the physical education aspect. This gives students an opportunity to interact with one another in an educational setting that may not have the same constraints as a traditional classroom. Resulting in a guided learning environment that fosters independent connection; this approach allows students to actively participate in their own education in a sensory-rich atmosphere surrounded by supportive teachers and staff members. “For most students, the time they spend in the gymnasium ends up being their favorite part of the day,” said Forest Park teacher Kelly Barkevich. “In class students develop motor functions by learning different stretches and movements that can be used in moments requiring self-soothing. By giving students an outlet to be able to dispel some residual energy, we are teaching them how to take responsibility for their bodies, and have autonomy over what types of tools they would like to use in order to help themselves.”
Additionally, throughout the summer students are given the opportunity to maintain existing skills in ELA and math that have been learned in the school year prior to their attendance at the summer program. High school age students are also able to engage in life-skills classes that may include cooking and introductions to other daily necessities. Classes such as these build off of the skills that the students have developed over the years, which are the main focus for the younger groups of students in the program. Younger students engage in hands-on art projects that further mobility and dexterity in a fun way while touching on these overarching themes that will become the building blocks to their future success.