Program rounds up eager students

LILBURN - On Tuesday, about 100 Radloff Middle School students celebrated their participation in a program designed to make summer school fun for children.

With help from a $200,000 grant from the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, the Gwinnett Village Community Alliance and the Boys and Girls Club partnered to pilot the Raider Round Up Program, designed to improve test scores, increase graduation rates, combat juvenile crime and gang activity and enhance school stability.

"This has been a great benefit to our whole school," said Radloff Middle Principal Patty Heitmuller. "We appreciate the CID. Their effort is well worth it. The idea that youth development is connected to community development is right on target."

Participating in such a program allows students to feel connected to and invested in their school, Heitmuller said.

As a result of having a sense of belonging, students' attendance and academic performance will improve, she said.

Sally Sherrington Haggard, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Alliance, said the program was geared toward middle schoolers because they are at an age when such programs can make a difference in their lives.

Students went to summer school or participated in academic activities in the morning and took field trips in the afternoons before buses took them home.

"Middle school is a turning point for a lot of kids," Haggard said. "We want to get them on the correct path to stay in school and increase the graduation rate."

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Louise Radloff said programs like this summer camp work.

"The next generation of Americans is coming out of this community," Radloff said. "These kids know a better way of life they can reach through education."

During the celebration at Skate-a-Long USA, Sakari Waters, 14, thanked Radloff for her support of the camp, which allowed him to go on several field trips throughout metro Atlanta.

Waters, who will be a ninth-grader at Norcross High, said the camp also helped him learn how to solve math problems and taught him new games.

Toneshia Johnson, 13, said she particularly enjoyed a trip to Six Flags. The rising eighth-grader said she also enjoyed meeting new people.

"You get to see more people and new faces and make new friends," she said.

Sachin Bhatt, 14, said he would have just been playing computer games at home if he hadn't participated in the camp.

"It was an opportunity to play different games and have fun," said Bhatt, who will be a freshman at Meadowcreek High School.

Haggard said the program will expand next summer to include Radloff and Summerour middle schools, with hopes of eventually including Lilburn Middle as well.

Providing the grant for the summer program allowed the CID to expand its focus, said Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village CID.

"Community development needs to be more than asphalt and concrete," he said. "We need to look at the people, starting with the school system."