By Dan Spading
WARSAW – As many as 1,000 young children will be part of a summer program headed up by United Way that will attempt to get some of the most vulnerable students back on track ahead of the return to school this fall.
United Way of Kosciusko County is partnering with Warsaw and Wawasee public schools to provide a three-week program that will help elementary-aged children get back into the rhythm of the classroom after being absent for months because of the pandemic.
The program, coined “Start United,” will begin on July 20 and operate at Lakeview Middle School in Warsaw and Syracuse Elementary, according to Darren Bickel, president of the county United Way.
“We are looking here in Kosciusko County to be on the forefront of communities that are going to step forward for our kids and not just wait for the magical date in August when school starts,” Bickel said.
The project is being funded in part with some money from a $450,000 grant from Lilly Endowment that United Way of Kosciusko County received earlier this year.
The summer program will feel more like a day camp and will include two meals a day, he said.
Bickel said it’s an attempt to wrap their arms around kids who have been “in some challenging atmospheres” in recent months.
School officials are attempting to identify which students could benefit from the program.
Bickel said Warsaw could have as many as 700 children in the program and another 300 could come from the Wawasee school district.
An emphasis will likely be made on the younger grades and much of the focus will be on reading abilities.
The class sizes will be smaller. As a result, the program will rely heavily on volunteers, he said.
As many as 100 to 120 volunteers will be needed, he said.
The three-week project will also serve as a rehearsal of sorts in terms of how schools prepare for their protocols that will be used when classes begin this fall, he said.