LEWISTON — Summer school counselor Isaiah Teague, 14, got the crowd of students pumped with his performance in the Longley Elementary School gym Wednesday morning.

“Left, left, left, right, left,” he chanted as 290 elementary students marched and chanted along.

“Are you ready?” he called. “Let me see your funky chicken!”

His audience clucked like chickens and flapped their arms, laughing and smiling. 

“One more time!” Teague said, then instructed them to get back in line.

“Let me see your Michael Jordan” swoosh, he said.


Other teen leaders, Michael Samboy, John Ricatto, Nick Roy, Mohamed Mohamed of Lewiston and Bowdoin College student Dhivya Singaram, performed familiar comedy skits, which were enjoyed by the student audience, judging by their enthusiastic participation.

When the assembly dispersed, the 290 students went to different classes. Some classes were being held at Longley, while others were at Tree Street Youth Center, just across Birch Street.

Welcome to a bigger, better summer program, thanks to the joined forces of Longley Elementary School and Tree Street Youth Center.

Tree Street is a private, nonprofit youth center that operates through donations and grants. The Longley program, created to reduce summer learning loss, is funded through federal Title I money and a John T. Gorman Foundation grant.

Before this year, Tree Street held its own summer program for about 80 students. Longley offered a program for about 150 students.

The programs combined on July 6.


Now, Tree Street is giving Longley a workforce of fun, “cool” camp counselors — like Teague and Samboy — who help mentor younger students and improve their behavior.

Longley is giving Tree Street better access to teachers and stronger reading intervention programs, plus weekly field trips to the ocean, farms and state parks, something Tree Street couldn’t afford.

“We have trained teachers,” Longley Assistant Principal Jana Mates said. “She (Julia Sleeper, executive director of Tree Street Youth Center) has a creative bunch of street leaders and interns who rock that summer camp. We collaborated.”

The program started July 6 and ends Aug. 7. It’s held Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each day starts with a lively assembly.

“It makes or breaks the day,” said youth leader Dhivya Singaram. “If you have the kids excited in the morning, they’re more likely to be excited for the rest of the day.”

Julia Sleeper, executive director of the Tree Street center, said the larger day program at Longley has challenged her counselors to do more.


Meanwhile, their laid-back behavior is rubbing off on Longley teachers, who chant and dance with the kids.

“Kids think it’s amazing that Miss G. did the ‘Nae Nae’ song,” Sleeper said.

“Each week, you see them loosening up,” Mates said of Longley teachers. “They’re seeing how the kids react, that being fun doesn’t mean you’ll lose credibility. My hope is that during the year, they’ll dance with the kids, sing a song.”

In the combined program, students spend the first part of the morning at Longley. After the assembly, students attend classes at either Tree Street or Longley.

Longley classes — even ones that teach students how to play Frisbee — are more structured than those at Tree Street. Tree Street classes are less formal, offering enrichment and social skills.

Students below grade-level reading get reading help at Longley. Students above grade-level reading, or those who need help with learning proper behavior, take Tree Street classes, which include dance, poetry, science, theater, Spanish and French.


Mates talked about one new student she hopes Tree Street counselors will help. The student is a newcomer to the country and lacks appropriate school behavior.

The student was assigned to Tree Street, where counselors teach things like personal boundaries, the importance of raising hands in class and how to get along with others.

“My hope is when he comes back in September, he’ll have friends and know how to behave in school.”

Overall, the combined program has boosted attendance.

Last year, Longley’s summer learning program started with 150 students enrolled, but attendance dropped, Mates said.

This year, 230 Longley students enrolled. In the fourth week, they’re still coming, she said.

“We’re maxed,” Mates said.

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