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Creative Learning Center provides summer instruction, fun

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  • July 09, 2011

As soon as you walk into Paula LeBlanc’s music room at Rocky Ridge Elementary School, you are hit with a burst of sound — and energy.

UAB’s Children’s Creative Learning Center is a summer enrichment program for children ages 3 to 12 that offers instruction in art, literacy, math and science. The UAB School of Education has sponsored the program for the past 40 years.

LeBlanc is directing her class of eight students as they prepare a children’s patriotic song to perform in front of fellow students and parents in three short days as part of their Arts in the Park program. The students can’t sit still. They move their arms and legs with the words of the song and sway back and forth. And they sing. Loudly.

“We have a lot of energy in here,” says LeBlanc. “Fortunately, it is amazing and talented energy.”

The children are at Rocky Ridge as part of UAB’s Children’s Creative Learning Center, a summer enrichment program that offers instruction in art, literacy, math and science. The UAB School of Education has sponsored the program for the past 40 years; the endeavor is in partnership with the Hoover Board of Education.

Classes are available for up to six weeks for children ages 3 to 12. This year’s program, with the theme Summer on Broadway, began in June and offered students a chance to learn about New York as they sharpened their reading, math and science and technology skills.

Abbey Hankins, program manager, is a former student of the summer program. She says the opportunities afforded to those who take part in the Creative Learning Center are numerous.

“There is something for every child who participates in the program,” Hankins says. “The 3-year-olds begin building their autonomy and acquiring the skills needed for school. The 7-year-olds have numerous options to enrich their reading and math skills. And our older kids have a hands-on opportunity to learn more about technology, whether it’s through Microsoft Office, computer and Internet safety, photography and even making movies with computers.

“We have lots and lots of fun.”

Classes for 3- to 6-year-olds are focused in their instruction, setting basic foundations for learning.

Averee Patton, site coordinator, has been involved with the Children’s Creative Learning Center for the past 10 years. Her 4-year-old twins Mary Glynn and Grayson are participating in this year’s program, and she has been impressed with what they have learned and how engaged they have been.

“One of their recent weekly themes was ‘New York State of Mind,’ and their teacher, Kinsley Hyche, read them books and they looked at photographs of New York City,” Patton says. “My kids were coming home talking about the Hudson River and Central Park. Then their class decided they wanted build New York City in their room, so they did, complete with the Hudson River, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. It’s really unbelievable what they did, and they’re so proud of it. And the class came up with the idea. That’s what I think is so amazing; they feel ownership and that they created what they learned.”

The two programs for children 7 to 9 years old and 10 to 12 years old put learning in the hands of the students. The 10- to 12-year-old students focus on technology and the various ways to use it, whether through writing, mathematics or the arts.

The 7- to 9-year-old children and their parents can choose the learning platforms they want to engage in, whether it’s enrichment workshops with reading, enrichment workshops with math, reading and math only workshops or enrichment only workshops.

“That’s what makes the Children’s Creative Learning Center so unique to me — the fact that the children and their parents have choices in their learning,” says Jennifer Summerlin, also a site coordinator. “Children don’t have a lot of choices about their learning in school, especially younger kids. Here, if parents want them to have additional instruction in reading or math, they can choose that. They would then have two periods of reading or two periods of math, and then two choices for what to do with their other two periods — art, music, dance, cooking, science, whatever.”

The math and reading enrichment work-shops feature individualized instruction for students; typically there are no more than 10 to 12 students in those classes. Teachers usually have a 15- to 20-minute group lesson, and then follow up with the students individually as they work on games, maps or reading.

Newsletters are sent home each week previewing the enrichment workshop options available the following week. Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about the choices available to them and to foster their excitement.

Grant brings expansion

The Children’s Creative Learning Center received a $50,000 grant from Belk, which has enabled UAB to run a second Creative Learning Center site simultaneously for six weeks at Glen Iris Elementary for underprivileged area youths. Jolee Owens coordinates that site.

More than 30 teachers administer the program to 160 children at Glen Iris. Some 20 teachers administer the program to 120 children at Rocky Ridge.

Faculty from UAB and teachers from throughout the Birmingham metro area are the instructors at both locations, most of whom have been involved in the program for years.

“These teachers truly are the cream of the crop,” says Patton.

“There are a group of us teachers who continue to come back and teach in this program because this is what we believe school could be like,” says Summerlin, who has been a part of the program for the past 15 years and has had two daughters participate. “The parents always say that what they learn here isn’t much different from what they learn in school. But because it’s choice and hands on, it’s very engaging and exciting. That’s what I believe school could be like.”

The program also provides opportunities for professional development for area teachers and UAB students; many UAB faculty send their students to the program to observe and work with children.

The camp’s focus has changed continually through the years as emphasis in public schools has fluctuated.

“The choice the kids have and the basic structure of the program hasn’t changed, but as reading became more important in schools, parents were asking for a little more reading instruction,” Summerlin says. “And they wanted more math instruction, as well. So as the schools have changed and the emphasis on instruction has changed, the program has changed to meet the needs of what parents are asking to have.”

The camp runs for six weeks, but children can attend for a minimum of three weeks. More information is available online at

Summerlin says the program will be back for its 41st year next summer.

“I’m already excited about it,” Summerlin says. “I can’t wait.”