Summer program empowers middle school students

Cooking, sewing, fitness activities build confidence
August 1, 2019

A summer enrichment program is instilling confidence in at-risk middle school students by exposing them to healthy, artistic and team-building activities in the community. 

On July 18, students found themselves sewing zipper pouches and crossbody purses at Mariner Middle School under the direction of Cape High textiles teacher Alayna Aiken. “They’ve never used sewing machines before,” said Aiken, who volunteered her services when she learned program coordinators wanted to hold a sewing instruction day for students.

Natashe Mullen is Sussex County coordinator of the behavioral health consultation program, operated under Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families through the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services.

“We checked with Alayna, and she said she could provide machines and materials,” Mullen said. “She’s so passionate about sewing, and she is sharing her passion with our girls. They’ve been excited about it all summer!” Mullen said this is the sixth year for the eight-week summer program, geared for students who have been identified by school behavioral health consultants as candidates for enrichment activities.

This year, students from Mariner, Beacon and Seaford middle are participating, based on recommendations by consultants Shanett Hynson at Mariner, Jennifer Edwards at Beacon and Richelle Clark at Seaford, licensed mental health practitioners who identify and screen students.

Students attend three days a week and engage in activities that boost social skills, communication and team-building. They take part in fitness activities such as walking on trails and doing yoga, learn life skills by learning to sew and cook healthy meals, and tour Delaware Technical Community College and Dover Air Force Base to learn about future opportunities.

Consultants provide individual therapy, crisis intervention and assessment, referrals to outpatient facilities, education for teachers, and after-school programs. Mullen said any student can participate during the school year and health insurance is not needed.

By the end of the summer, Hynson said, students are more confident. “They’re more in tune with themselves and with others,” she said.

Edwards said their social skills are more developed. “They learn how to adapt to new people, including each other. Most of them don’t know each other before the summer program.”

Students may be referred to a behavioral health consultant by principals, school psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers and parents. They may also self-refer. Go to


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