This year, Anímate’s new partnership includes Westminster, Garden Hills Elementary, Instituto de Mexico and La Amistad Inc. and is run by teachers Pamela Villafañe, Claudia Lopez and Andrea Lllerna.
Anímate’s primary coordinator Daniel Searl, Westminster’s director of Hispanic student development and diversity, said this summer marks the program’s sixth year.
“We wanted to maintain a summer enrichment program for Hispanic students, specifically elementary age,” he said. “We pull different groups from Jackson, Sarah Smith and Garden Hills [elementary schools].”
Searl said one of the biggest “summertime issues” for Hispanic students is being in a “Spanish-only environment” and Anímate’s main goal is to help them grow academically, specifically in math, reading and writing.
However, Searl said the program combines academics with summer fun, which “builds community, helps the kids learn to trust in one another and grow as human beings while learning new skills.” He said there is pool time, soccer, team building, trust falls, painting and other art forms.
Last week, Mexican painter Efraín Cruz, who works in Valdosta, visited the school to work with the Anímate children. He and his brother Orlando talked to them about different types of art and led an art project, according to Searl.
“It was spectacular,” he said.
Aside from the faculty, Westminster student volunteers actually teach most of the lessons under the teachers’ directions. Recent graduate Linnea Ryshke and rising senior Graham Seagroves are the student directors this summer.
“Honestly, I don’t see it as what I take away from it. It’s more about what I give them,” Ryshke said. “It is the spirit of the kids I love to be around.”
Ryshke is wrapping up her fourth Anímate summer Thursday, as the program which started June 4, comes to an end.
“I’ve never had a leader job before and it has made me grow,” she said.
For next summer and be-yond, Searl said the goal is to maintain the same partnership.
“It’s a win-win across the board,” he said. “The Westminster volunteers are having a real-life experience, a meaningful one at that. For the parents, they have a safe place and a good learning environment for their kids to go to, and the teachers have a great summer jump opportunity, which is a great way for them to connect with people in their culture.”