By Louisa Benatovich

For many, summertime is the opportunity to de-stress and let loose after ten months of school. 

These humid, school-less weeks also bring about a lack of routine and, unfortunately, summer is the time where new skills acquired during the school year gather dust on the back shelves of the mind.

This year, Ellicottville Central School is battling this much-dreaded “Summer Slide” in a brand-new summer tutoring program. Thanks to a grant from the Rotary Club of Ellicottville, the program is able to run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the elementary school at no cost. 

From 9 a.m. to noon., 18 rising 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders play with puppets, keep picture journals, make posters, create timelines and engage in other fun activities designed to extend their thinking about what they read.

“Our hope is to help students avoid the ‘Summer Slide,’ or the loss of reading skills over the summer vacation,” says Dr. Marie Davis, resident Reading Specialist. “Especially emergent or ‘new’ readers who have just gotten ‘on their feet,’ so to speak.”

Along with Leanne Pfeffer and Vonni Dickinson, Dr. Davis works with her beloved students 1-on-1, in pairs or even in small groups.

“Our students are pros: showing up strong and ready to read well and work hard for us,” she said. “It is absolutely fantastic to see them ‘take off’ as readers. There is nothing better!”

Davis said she is a reading teacher because she loves working with young children to become readers. She said it’s a perfect fit and cannot imagine doing any other work.

“My classroom is a safe space where students can learn and grow.,” she said. “I get to know each child well and try to provide support to that individual person. I listen to children and respond to their concerns as they learn to read. I observe them carefully and teach according to the needs of each child. I am grateful to be a part of their journeys.”

Summers are hard for Davis because, as she explained, there is an extended period of time that she doesn’t see her students. Although vacation is nice, after a week or two, she said she’s ready to return to the classroom.

“The summer tutoring program is helpful to students who will benefit from extra support with their reading and writing, but also to me personally because it allows me to see them and share in their summer adventures,” Davis said. “We can be creative and read and write just for fun!”

“It’s difficult to sum up how amazing and dedicated Dr. Davis is in just a few words,” said Beth Nelthrope.

When her family came to Ellicottville two years ago, Nelthrope said her kids struggled to some degree with writing and/or reading. They all needed help in different areas. Since then, Davis has worked with them and inspires them to want to improve their skills, Nelthrope said.

“All of them absolutely adore her,” she said. “Her selfless dedication and truly kind soul touch our family daily. She goes above and beyond as a teacher and mentor for her students and their families.”

Nelthrope said Davis has a way of motivating children to take pride in their work and want to do well can’t be taught in any education class. She said Davis’s kind, dedicated soul radiates into her teaching and the children feel that positive energy.

“My family will always have a special place in our hearts and feel blessed that we can have such an incredible woman helping to mold our young minds,” Nelthrope said of Davis. “She is an inspiration and deserves the utmost praise.”

None of this summer reading magic, however, would be possible without the Rotary Club.

“The Rotary Club of Ellicottville has been supportive from the first day I reached out to them,” said Davis. “They care for our students’ well-being above all else.  They truly are an invaluable resource in this community.”

Davis said she is thankful to the Rotary for making the program possible and encouraging her to realize this dream. She said parents have also been entirely supportive, driving children to and from tutoring, adjusting their work schedules to get them there, and working hard with their children at home.

“Maren Bush, Elementary Principal, has given her full support to our project — realizing that reading over the summer is crucial to students’ successes and lending her help along the way,” she added. 

Thanks to Tina Barrett, Greg Cappelli, and the multitudes of other Rotarians in the Ellicottville community and beyond. Crucial skills are being fortified in students for whom, typically, reading hasn’t come quite as easily.

A wonderful trifecta of administration, education and generosity, this program is setting students up for the brightest of futures. ECS is laying the groundwork for a new generation of passionate readers and instilling a love of learning that will pay off for years to come!