By Denise Dick
A debate topic about year-round school led an Ursuline High School senior to launch a summer educational program for city schoolchildren.
Zachary Schmetterer of Canfield learned about summer learning loss while preparing for a debate as a high-school sophomore.
He found studies about the problem, which is particularly bad in disadvantaged areas, he said.
“I thought, I go to school in an area that’s right up the street from several schools,” Schmetterer said. “How can I make a difference?”
He contacted Doris Perry, a family friend and retired Youngstown City Schools teacher, and together they started Keep Smart last summer.
“I had the idea, and you had the knowledge and experience,” Schmetterer told Perry.
She made the contacts with the city’s parks-and-recreation summer camp to incorporate Keep Smart as part of the camp’s educational component.
Perry, though, gives all the credit to Schmetterer and his family.
“It was all your idea,” she said.
Before Schmetterer got his driver’s license, his mother, Dr. Susan Woods, drove him to the weekly tutoring sessions to help younger students with reading and math skills. Schmetterer’s father, Dr. Lawrence Schmetterer, and Perry’s late husband, Dr. Earnest Perry, were good friends.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, based in Baltimore, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they score on the same tests before the start of summer vacation. The problem is worse for low-income students.
Schmetterer, with the help of Ursuline teacher Aimee Morrison, organized fellow students to get involved in the effort.
The students range from elementary to high school.
Ryan Lalchand, 16, of Girard, an Ursuline junior, worked with Samirr Washington, 6, a first-grader at Harding Elementary School, on his numbers. This marks Lalchand’s first summer with the program.
“I wanted to help out my community,” he said.
His mother is a teacher, and he respects her work and has heard her talk about the problem of summer learning loss.
“I wanted to help with memory skills,” he said.
Ursuline junior A.J. Carnathan, 16, of Youngstown, spent part of a morning last week helping Kirkmere Elementary School sixth- graders Isaiah Harvey, 11, and Caroline Weaver, 12, with division.
She got involved because she wanted to help children in her community.
Perry said much of helping children learn comes down to kindness.
“I say, ‘I dare you not to learn,’” she said.
Students in the program are receptive to the help, and Schmetterer, who primarily works with older students, said some have told him that they understand some concepts better once he explains them.
“He’s so patient with the children,” Perry said.
She said the program, which takes place at Wick and Crandall parks on the city’s North Side, not far from Ursuline, works because everyone works as a team, from the Ursuline students to the people in the parks-and-recreation department.
Schmetterer, who plans to study public policy in college next year, will continue the program even after high-school graduation.
“I’m very interested in community service,” he said.
He hopes his Ursuline classmates continue while he’s at college.
“They’re all very dedicated,” Schmetterer said. “When I talked about the program, they all got involved because they wanted to help.”
Perry hopes the program continues to bear Schmetterer’s mark even after he’s no longer directly involved.
“It should be in your name,” she said.