Individuality celebrated as students express themselves in Sheffield Elementary summer program

  • Painted rocks created during Sheffield Elementary School’s 21st Century Community Learning Center summer program in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • From left, Mary Korpiewski, David Drescher, Ellie Gonzalez, Tianna Valdez and Nova Gallup hold up art they created during Sheffield Elementary School’s 21st Century Community Learning Center summer program in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Students draw and create with LEGOs during Sheffield Elementary School’s 21st Century Community Learning Center summer program in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2022 3:50:09 PM
Modified: 8/5/2022 3:47:01 PM

TURNERS FALLS — As Sheffield Elementary School’s summer program drew to a close this week, Site Coordinator Christine Bates thought back 15 years to when the last of her children took part.

“I personally understand what it means to families to have good programming,” she said. “Kids just need more people to talk to. More things to read. More people to play games with them.”

Each year, Bates sculpts the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) summer program to meet these needs. Offered for free with help from a competitive state grant, this year’s program began on July 6 and ended on Thursday, inviting students roughly 7 to 12 years old back to the school building for multi-disciplinary days of enrichment from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Areas of instruction involved arts, athletics and lifestyle-related skills bestowed upon students by school staff and partner organizations such as Musica Franklin, a youth development organization based around music and social justice.

“My goal is to provide for kids more of what they need than we can provide during the school day,” Bates said.

To achieve this goal, Bates “tailored this program to what (she) saw as gaps” in what’s offered during the school year. One such gap she addressed involved the difficulties of socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color in receiving the care they deserve. In addition to offering the program at no cost, Bates said she made it a point to seek out an “incredibly diverse staff” that would help counterbalance the limited diversity within the Gill-Montague Regional School District.

Robin Whiteman, a reading and math teacher who served as the summer program’s art instructor, said she was happy to see students unify in an overwhelmingly uplifting way over the course of the month.

“I think that the kids are learning that there was no negative activity here,” she said. “It was really positive encouragement and I think that helps them as they get older, as they … become individuals.”

Whiteman took pride in her observation that her art classes had “given them positive feelings about being unique.” Such thinking, she said, was cultivated with an intentional effort to give students unbridled control over their projects, which ranged from small object collages to artwork painted with cardboard. Aside from Whiteman providing her pupils with inspiration and a medium to work in, styles were left up to interpretation, resulting in a collection of work as diverse in composition as its creators.

“I didn’t want to have models for the kids so they could think outside the box and be creative,” Whiteman said. “I was impressed at how well they did and took it to task.”

A favorite project among the children entailed painting rocks with vibrant colors and kind messages. Students enjoyed it so much, in fact, that some adopted the activity in their free time.

“Every day I paint rocks,” student Nova Gallup said.

“I usually collect rocks and put them up on my shelf,” student Tianna Valdez said. “Soon, I’ll have rocks all around my room and I’ll have no place to put them.”

Other classes within the program similarly transcended school walls to pique children’s interests. Dijon Arijon, a student who grew up playing soccer with his father, said playing soccer through the summer program helped him realize his potential as a player.

“I do have skill,” he said.

As students leave the building after their final session, Bates hopes for each child to emerge having learned that it’s alright to have ups and downs while going about life. The summer program, she said, normalized this way of thinking. In the sports they played, getting roughed-up in the process wasn’t personal or intentional, Bates explained as an example. In art classes, even things that could be perceived as “messy and awful” had a place at the table to be celebrated.

“I think every enrichment that we offer has a component of helping kids relate to … how they move in the world,” Bates said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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