Saturday School at Southgate
“They think about college and get it in their minds that it is a real possibility for them.”
— Andrew Loftus, assistant principal, Hunters Woods Elementary School
On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 8, about 50 Hunters Woods Elementary School students got out of bed for a surprising destination at Southgate Community Center: Saturday School.
Since 2009, Southgate Community Center has collaborated with Hunters Woods Elementary and George Mason University’s Potomac Arts Academy to provide weekly sessions in visual arts, music, theater, and science to 4-6th graders. The program invites between 40-50 students each winter to join.
Each week, Program Coordinator Katherine Fredgren directs the students to their activities, reminding the excited pack of students to be on their best behavior for their instructors and take off their hats. She has served as coordinator for the program for five years now, and her enthusiasm and support for students have only grown. She has even gone so far as to knock on doors to make sure her students are attending each week.
“Hunters Woods is a school dedicated to the arts and sciences, and yet some of our kids aren’t getting the exposure they need, so this serves as that additional exposure,” said Fredgren, a former teacher who lives in Reston. “This is a safe place close to their home so that they can get here.”
SATURDAY SCHOOL first began in 2009 when Katie Lee, a Hunters Woods intern teacher and graduate student at Mason, set up a pilot program to bring Potomac Arts Academy to Southgate. After Lee left, Fredgren was asked to be a coordinator. Each year since, Saturday School has received funding from the PTA to feed the kids a healthy breakfast, provide education programs, and bring the students on field trips to George Mason.
The group began the morning on Feb. 8 by splitting into two groups four hour-long sessions. The 4-5th graders performed acting exercises led by George Mason theater department members in the gymnasium, while sixth graders drew their symbolized self-portraits in another room, receiving instruction from Master’s in Arts in Teaching (MAT) students. These university students work with Mason’s Potomac Arts Academy, which provides community arts programs around Northern Virginia.
“I’ve always loved art classes outside of school. I feel they’re a lot more freeing and there’s not as much pressure, so you have a lot more ability to be creative without anything stopping you,” said Lauren Stummer, an MAT student and first-time instructor at Saturday School.
Hunters Woods Elementary Assistant Principal Andrew Loftus said that Saturday School has been successful in making kids aware of the excellent resources offered by Southgate Community Center in their own neighborhood. “I see the center as a sort of community living room. It’s been a great opportunity for staff and students to strengthen their relationships with students by working with them in a different setting,” said Loftus.
THE THREE-MONTH LONG PROGRAM culminates each year in a visit to George Mason in late March that exposes students to the nearby university. Last year, students went to the Patriot Center and participated in a Masonettes Dance Team warm-up, watched a Green Machine pep band rehearsal, and attended a men’s basketball game.
“That to me is the moment that tugs at my heart a little each year, when they get to see the collegiate level and kids walk away saying, ‘this is where I’m going to school someday,’” said Loftus. “They think about college and get it in their minds that it is a real possibility for them.”
Ellen Graves, board director for the Hunters Woods and Dogwood District for Reston Association, has watched Saturday School blossom over the last six years and looks forward to its continued success.
“You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ The truth is that it really does here,” said Graves.