Riverview Spotlight - Denise Cunningham
“Denise is a treasure to the district and it is unbelievable everything she does year-round for kids and families in Riverview.”
The above thoughts are not just shared by Riverview Paraprofessional Jody Rutledge, but also from a vast array of Cherry Valley Elementary staff and administration. Denise Cunningham has worked tirelessly to find a way to provide Cherry Valley Cheetahs with a more well-rounded school experience. Oftentimes, this means being available before school, after school, and throughout the summer months. Ms. Denise, as she is known by her students, manages the Cheetah Club extended day program and summer day care program at the school. She cultivates a nurturing environment where students have fun in a supportive, safe place.
In addition to overseeing both programs, she handles much of the administrative components of the programs, including registration and payments, managing health plans for specific students, and serving as a liaison between the child and the classroom and teacher. Snacks are readily available, budgeted, ordered, and planned for consistently, and she offers no shortage of art projects, creative games and learning opportunities, engaging with each and every student she encounters.
“I started with the day care program when I began at Cherry Valley three years ago. Once I got into running the program, I was looking to do more. When the summer day care program became available, and with it being hosted at my home school site, I interviewed for that position and got it,” Cunningham says. “With the summer day care program expanding and growing, students from all schools attend and this past summer we had nearly 130 students registered.”
Cunningham talks about the expansion of the summer day care program with a smile, and deflects any notion that managing a program growing that much is a challenge or a chore. For her, managing the staffing necessary to sustain an efficient program, communicating with the parents, overseeing the healthy snacks made available, tracking the student’s attendance, and making sure everyone’s needs are met is just part of what her job requires.
In the summer, the program is full of opportunities for students to continue their learning. Silent reading is worked in to the daily schedule, computer lab time is provided, and lots of interaction is key to making sure students have a nurturing and supportive environment.
During the course of the school year, Cheetah Club finds Cunningham working before school and after school, beginning her day around 7:00 a.m. and concluding her evening by 6:30 p.m.
“One passion I have is to bridge the gap between the classroom and our time spent in Cheetah Club. Some students need extra help and I try to coordinate the receiving of homework with their teachers, so we can spend some time working on it together in Cheetah Club.”
Once the students are in their classrooms and the day has begun, Cunningham will often use her time in the mid-day to check in on students who might be struggling or needing some additional support. “I am often thinking about how we can work together to improve behavior, or focus on homework, or time spent reading, for example. This way, if students can get homework done before they make it home, it frees up so much time for families to reconnect after a busy school and work day.”
“Ms. Denise is an amazing, caring person, who sets the students up for success in both her program and during the school day,” shares Cherry Valley principal Roxanne Luchini. “She provides a structured and loving environment and students thoroughly enjoy spending time with her. Ms. Denise is a shining star, not only for Cherry Valley, but for all of Riverview. We are so fortunate to have her in our district and Riverview community.”
As a parent who has had three children move through the district, including one senior this year at Cedarcrest High School, Cunningham has spent considerable time watching the district grow, change, and modify its approach over the years. For her, it’s all about communicating with the children she sees every day at their level, finding out what they take interest in, and giving them the room to explore those interests and focus on the things that help them find success in the classroom and beyond.
“I try and make everything a learning experience,” she offers. “And I really think we all have worked hard to integrate this program into the larger school program more than ever before.”