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Boston schools try to stem ‘summer slide’

Dragon Camp focuses on enrichment, rather than remediation

Students were transfixed as Harris Hogu dropped an egg in a parachute at Dragon Camp.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

Students were transfixed as Harris Hogu dropped an egg in a parachute at Dragon Camp.

‘It’s alive!” screamed 12-year-old Keyshawn Charles, holding a brown chicken egg up in the air like a trophy.

His egg, cradled in a paper-towel-lined cup and fitted to a plastic bag turned parachute, had just survived a 10-foot drop to the floor of the Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter Public School, where Charles learned Tuesday about principles of flight like lift, drag, and thrust.

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Charles and his peers, who squealed in jubilation as they recovered their unscathed eggs, are, seemingly painlessly, attending summer school. A few sported red T-shirts emblazoned with a dragon, the official mascot of Dragon Camp, Pacific Rim’s reimagination of traditional academic remediation.

For the second year in a row, the charter school in Hyde Park is running a three-week program aimed at giving fifth- and sixth-graders who have struggled in school a chance to catch up and have fun.

“For students who’ve had to repeat a grade, school can be a negative place,” said Alicia Green, one of the program instructors. “To see those same kids excited to come here to this school building is great.”

Traditional summer school aims to give students who are missing credits a chance to redo coursework in order to move on to the next grade. But the summer months, said Sue Thompson, Dragon Camp executive director, hold potential for enrichment, rather than remediation.

The camp is part of a growing movement among Boston-area charter and traditional public schools to expand opportunities to help children, especially those from lower-income families, beat the “summer slide,” the loss of academic progress made the previous year.

“Our goal is to . . . extend what kids learn during the academic year, not do over what’s already happened,” said Lee McGuire, spokesman for the Boston public schools.

Eighty-four percent of the 45 students at Dragon Camp are from low-income families, and 64 percent have learning disabilities. The figures are similar for those served by Boston’s public school system.

“We’re not only trying to eliminate summer learning loss, but also the opportunity gap for those who live closer to the poverty level,” McGuire said.

More than 11,000 students are served by Boston public schools’ 17 summer programs this year. Three thousand are in traditional remediation, while the other 8,000 participate in enrichment programs.

More than 1,000 participate in the Boston schools’ Summer Learning Project, which sends students and teachers to work in nontraditional settings such as the marshes at Thompson Island and the USS Constitution.

The English Language Learners Academy helps nearly 900 students in grades 3 to 12 improve their speaking skills, while the Summer Arts Intensive trains young visual and performing artists across the district. All programs, like Pacific Rim’s, are free.

Isaias Torres, 14, of Hyde Park attended Dragon Camp last year and is now in Dragon Academy, Pacific Rim’s partner program for grades 7 and 8.

“In fifth grade, I was such a clown,” Torres said. “All I was good at was making people laugh. But camp has helped me be less distracted. It’s almost high school; it’s time to focus.”

While older students in Dragon Academy work on community service projects, Dragon Camp students attend English and math classes each morning. Both Academy and Camp students take a daily social skills class with the school psychologist to learn about healthy decision-making, sex education, and conflict-resolution techniques.

That course is taught with the assistance of Pacific Rim high school students who are interested in pursuing teaching.

In the afternoons, counselors conduct their own classes, teaching cooking, creative writing, and volleyball to campers.

Pacific Rim alumnus Harris Hogu, 19, came back from his freshman year as an engineering major at Northeastern University to teach a Dragon Camp science class. He was the brain behind Tuesday’s “egg drop.”

“This might get messy; if your egg cracks, you lose,” he said, holding the grand prize: a bag of gumdrops.

“I want my kids to see they’re not just getting grades,” said Hogu, who hopes to become an engineering teacher. “If they remember the forces that kept their parachutes up today and apply that knowledge, I’m happy.”

Back in the Pacific Rim classroom, all of the fifth- and sixth-graders’ eggs survived their first drop.

They moved next to the gym, where Hogu dropped the eggs from atop a lunch table. Squeals turned into sighs of relief as all of the eggs made it, again.

“OK, want to try the second-floor window?” Hogu asked his students.

And with a chorus of “3, 2, 1!” the parachute-strapped eggs floated down the side of the Pacific Rim school building to resounding cheers.

Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at alyssa.botelho@
globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyssaABotelho.
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