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York City students (voluntarily) take summer school

ERIN JAMES
YorkDispatch

Convincing seventh- and eighth-graders to voluntarily enroll in a three-week summer school program is not exactly an easy task.

But that's how 30 York City students will be spending the bulk of July, thanks to a well-sourced pitch from their principal.

According to Danielle Brown, the program known as Project Forward Leap on the Millersville University campus is a place where the curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering and math — but the teaching approach is different than traditional schooling.

She would know.

Brown, 37, is the principal of McKinley K-8, a school in the York City School District.

But 26 years ago she was a Lancaster City sixth-grader chosen to participate in the inaugural program. The impact of that experience has never left her.

"I grew up in a very small town. My neighborhood was very closed, very tight, but very closed," Brown said.

Project Forward Leap "opened my eyes to what I could do and who I could be," she said.

Emphasis: The program is different because it emphasizes critical-thinking skills, leadership and personal responsibility, Brown said.

"It just really gets your mind shaped around education and the hunger for knowledge," she said.

Before coming to York City, Brown spent much of her professional career working for the program, rising to the position of chief academic officer.

Project Forward Leap — established in 1989 to serve inner-city students — has partnered with nearly every other urban school district in the region except York City, Brown told the district's school board recently.

She is seeking to change that.

Experience: With federal funds designated for low-performing schools, Brown has arranged for 30 rising seventh- and eighth-graders to spend three weeks in the program starting July 5.

Brown said the experience on a college campus will help students "see themselves there."

The program is intense, with lessons planned seven days a week, Brown said.

"Even their free time is deliberately scheduled," she said.

Brown said she selected students who have shown leadership and academic potential. They might have a C average, "but they have a fire," she said.

Brown said she is seeking to change the culture at McKinley. The program will be specifically tailored to the York City students.

Like her hometown, "York is a small town," Brown said.

"We have to take baby steps to get to where we need to go," she said.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.