Ignite Program “Sparks” Student Discovery


Extended-day programs throughout the country joined together on Oct. 23 to celebrate the 15th Annual Lights on Afterschool, an initiative highlighting the significant roles that these programs play in the lives of children, families, and communities.

It’s a message that is celebrated every day in Camden, where more than 200 students grades 4 to 8 participate in Ignite, an innovative expanded learning program at Camden Community Charter School, Cooper’s Poynt School, Master Charter School’s North Camden Elementary, Rafael Cordero (R.C.) Molina Elementary School, and Pyne Poynt Middle School.

ignite1Rutgers University­–Camden teams with the schools in the Rutgers­/North Camden Schools Partnership, funded with a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Leveraging university resources, the initiative aims to maximize student learning and strengthen families and their neighborhood, while bolstering the education of Rutgers­–Camden students and enhancing faculty research.

“A true partnership is built on a deep understanding of the cares and needs of a community, a neighborhood, and its families and children,” says Gloria Martinez-Vega, principal of R.C. Molina Elementary and Molina Annex. “True partners support one another with the purpose of making dreams come true by closing gaps and offering guidance. That is what Rutgers–Camden has given our North Camden neighborhood and our scholars at R.C. Molina – an opportunity to dream, to believe, and to achieve for a better future.”

Ignite seeks to “spark” student discovery by providing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses; art; athletics; literacy achievement; mentoring, and college exposure, explains Gayle Christiansen, program coordinator for the Office of Civic Engagement at Rutgers–Camden.

“This isn’t your typical afterschool program,” says Christiansen. “Students are offered academic services, but they are also introduced to a variety of high-quality programs intended to spur their interests and inquiry well beyond the classroom.”

ignite2Diamond Hernandez, a 7th-grader at Cooper’s Poynt, says that her favorite class is cycling, offered by the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, one of the program’s dedicated partners.

“It’s fun, because I get to ride bikes around Camden with my friends,” says Hernandez, who dreams of one day being a police officer.

Jayden Brown, a 5th-grader at R.C. Molina, enjoys the tennis class, offered through a partnership with Legacy Youth Tennis and Education in Philadelphia.

“We get to run around and play,” says Brown, who also wants to be a cop.

Rutgers­–Camden faculty and students collaborate with school staff to align and complement programming with school-day instruction. A Rutgers–Camden student site coordinator and school-based master teacher co-coordinate each of the programs. Undergraduates serve as Ignite Education Ambassadors, assisting teachers in the implementation of classes. They also team with teachers and community partners to engage students in project-based learning clubs, which showcase their results at the end of the semester and summer session.

ignite9“As a future teacher, getting on-the-job experience is difficult until you are student teaching,” says Justin Cuevas, a history major who is also pursuing an education certificate at Rutgers­–Camden. “Ignite has allowed me to get that experience as a sophomore and connect with kids in the city where I was born.”

During the summer, 100 middle-school students take part in the Ignite program on the Rutgers–Camden campus, where they get acclimated to college life, and are introduced to other educational initiatives, such as the Rutgers–Camden Future Scholars program. Ultimately, Ignite aims to kindle students’ interests and capabilities of attending and completing college.

Suffice to say that it’s working.

“Taking part in the Ignite program makes me want to go to college, because now I know that I have people who can help me get there,” says Keith Hurst, a 7th-grader at R.C. Molina, who dreams of being a pediatrician.

Luis Soto, a 6th-grader at R.C. Molina, echoed his appreciation and excitement, saying that visiting the Rutgers–Camden campus was fun and educational all at once.

“When I grow up and attend Rutgers, I want to pursue my dream of becoming a train engineer,” says Soto. “The Rutgers ambassadors will help me get there, and I thank them with all my heart.”

Ignite also provides opportunities for parents to plan and engage in programming. The door is always open for parents to get involved, says Jayden’s mother, Nashae Brown.

ignite5“I am always invited to volunteer and help out,” says Brown. “The staff is very receptive to parents’ thoughts and comments.”

Volunteering has proven to be not only challenging and rewarding for parents, but a learning experience for them as well, adds parent Josie Rodriguez, a coach at North Camden Little League, who partnered with the program this past summer to offer sports to all Ignite students.

“Being a role model for the students has helped me learn more about myself and grow,” says Rodriguez. “As a parent, I wish we had something like this when I was in school; it is such a privilege for my son.”

While offering high-quality programming, Ignite also aims to enhance the university-based instruction of Rutgers–Camden students and enable them to develop real-world skills and relationships beyond textbook facts and figures. Ambassadors routinely become invested in the lives and futures of the children whom they assist, developing mentoring relationships that continue long after lessons and projects have ended.

“I’ve made a real connection with the majority of the kids,” says Janet Dwomor, a business major at Rutgers–Camden. “I want to be someone who the kids can depend on and talk to no matter what.”

The impact is not lost on Angel Roque, an 8th-grader at Pyne Poynt, who says simply, “The ambassadors encourage you and make you want to be something.”

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