Pilot Program in Harrisonburg Aims to Help Academics

By: Carly Stephenson Email
By: Carly Stephenson Email

HARRISONBURG, Va. -- A pilot program in the Valley is hoping to help at-risk kids become more successful in the classroom.

It's a five week effort that is funded by a $16,000 grant from James Madison University as well as Harrisonburg City Schools.

Teacher Suzanne Gilchrist-Thompson said it's an effort to provide support for the kids who haven't been successful in the regular co-ed classroom.

They chose to do this program after looking at research that showed separating genders makes a difference.

Gilchrist-Thompson said it has affected the way the third and fourth graders are interacting.

Teachers Hunter Rush and Gilchrist-Thompson use songs in the classroom to get the kids moving and work on math and language skills.

Thirty kids in this program were selected because they were at risk or needed extra help in the classroom.

Because it's a short program, Gilchrist-Thompson said that it wouldn't make up for a years worth of lessons.

But Gilchrist-Thompson said qualitative changes are already evident in the classroom.

"I've seen very reticent girls willing to put their answers out there, willing to take some academic risks, and help each other....The boys seem less inclined to work in small tight groups and rather like to work side by side, just like little boys in the sandbox," said Gilchrist-Thompson.

The boys and girls do get back together to practice for the "Emperor's New Clothes."

They're working with the JMU Department of Theatre on the play, which they will perform on July 24th at 2 p.m. and July 25th at 6 p.m.

It's a community effort with donations as well, including meals provided by the Salvation Army.

The program ends on July 26th.

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