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Stamford campers use Harry Potter to learn transition skills

August 8, 2018

STAMFORD — What does Harry Potter have to do with learning time management?

A lot, apparently, at least at PRISM, a summer program for incoming sixth graders run by the educational arm of the Stamford Peace Youth Foundation.

PRISM stands for PRactical Investigations of Science and Math. But the weeklong camp also teaches 20 incoming sixth graders skills they need to transition smoothly into middle school such as time management, leadership, note-taking and listening.

“There’s a big jump between elementary and middle school and an even bigger jump between middle and high school,” said program director Andrew Sklover. “We think those transition periods are underserved. We need to be more focused on that transition so when they get to middle school, they’re not feeling overwhelmed.”

Just as these aren’t traditional school lessons, campers aren’t subject to school-style worksheets and homework packets. On the first day of camp, program coordinator Martine Curto, a retired high school teacher, appealed to the children’s fantastical side by having them schedule a day for Harry Potter.

“I gave them an activity list of all the things Harry has to do in a day with events they recognized whether it be Quidditch or potions class,” Curto said. “They had to figure out when to eat, when to get up, when to study. It was very particular. They were laughing because there was a lot of characters and a lot of terminology from the books they all knew.”

But more importantly, Curto said students learned Harry has to eat lunch before he goes to sports practice so he won’t be hungry, lessons they can translate into planning their own day with classes, sports, homework and other activities.

The fun isn’t limited to learning soft skills. Students also study the principles of physics as they apply to sports, including how to make the best basketball shot.

“We’ve been doing a lot of fun things,” said Daniel Giron, 11, an incoming sixth grader at Scofield Magnet Middle School. “We’ve been learning the background in science and math behind sports.”

This year’s camp is an expanded pilot of a program by Beyond Limits, the academic arm of the Stamford Peace Youth Foundation, ran last summer for incoming sixth graders at Rippowam Middle School for Stamford Public Schools. This year’s campers represent 10 elementary schools in Stamford.

The camp is free to students and their families. Participants are also eligible to receive tutoring from Beyond Limits during the school year, at a cost of $15 an hour, or $5 if the student is on free or reduced lunch.

“It helps students feel confident in their academic abilities right from the start, so they don’t fall behind and continue to be behind the curve into middle school,” Sklover said.

Sklover, along with program manager/lead teacher Sean Serafino helped develop the curriculum for PRISM camp. In addition to working with Beyond Limits, Serafino teaches third grade in Monroe and is an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University. He’s also a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for Connecticut.

Serafino, who is joined by three Noyce Scholars from SHU who are future math and science teachers, says the camp gives students a chance to focus on these skills more versus at school where the emphasis is on literary arts.

“We want to make it real for them that math and science have applications in the real world, not just paper and pencil activities,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing right now. That’s where the jobs are going to be.”

And according to Giron, the half-day program is already making a difference.

“I love it,” he said. “It gives me a better chance of doing the best I can. Overall, I feel pretty confident. When I’m here, I feel better. I’m learning things that are actually going to help me in sixth grade.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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