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East Boston Y finding success with online classes

Students get benefit of gym, too

Oscar Garcia, 20, worked on high school classes with help from Breannah Conward-Lewis (top) at the East Boston YMCA, and then took advantage of the gym facilities to work out.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Oscar Garcia, 20, worked on high school classes with help from Breannah Conward-Lewis (top) at the East Boston YMCA, and then took advantage of the gym facilities to work out.

For Oscar Garcia, summer school does not seem so much like summer school.

Yes, the soon-to-be senior at East Boston High School is spending hours each day making up three courses: US History I, Algebra II, and English III. But he is not stuck in the school’s dark stuffy library, taking the courses online, as previous students have done.

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Instead, he has been heading to the air-
conditioned East Boston YMCA, where the online courses are being offered for the first time. As an added bonus, he is getting a free gym membership, enabling him to hit the weights after his studies.

“I’ve been wanting to go to the gym for a while,” Garcia said. “I hadn’t gone for a year or two. I feel good about it.”

The East Boston YMCA began offering the online courses earlier this year in partnership with East Boston High School. The hope is that by offering the courses in a recreational facility students will be more apt to participate and earn their diplomas, breaking the routine of being in a school setting.

The partnership also brings another benefit, subtly engraining students with lifelong lessons about the benefits of good nutrition and regular excercise. In addition to the gym membership, the Y also offers students free healthy snacks and breakfast items, such as whole-wheat bars and whole-grain cereals.

“We know that kids after spending all day in a school building want a change in venue, to be able to stretch out and do some exercise,” said Jan Manfredi, the Success Boston senior project manager, who works on credit-recovery programs for the Boston School Department.

‘We know that kids after spending all day in a school building want a change in venue, to be able to stretch out and do some exercise. It helps motivate them to finish.’

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“It helps motivate them to finish,” Manfredi said.

Initially, the Y envisioned its program running only during the school year, but then it received $40,000 from an anonymous donor, enabling the program to operate this summer.

The expansion into the summer months could not have happened at a better time. Concern has been growing nationwide that many youngsters in the summer are not getting enough exercise and proper nutitrition, snacking too much on junk food, while sitting around watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Web.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in June, found a potential trend of weight gain during the summer break among children and adolescents of certain demographic backgrounds, particularly those who are black or Hispanic, live in low-income households, or are already overweight.

The report strongly recommended providing youths with more opportunities for physical activity and greater access to summer food programs, such as the free lunches offered by the Boston schools and many other Massachusetts districts.

The East Boston Y says that early results from its program are promising. Nearly 90 percent of students who took online courses earlier this year completed them, well above the norm, and many students are showing up in the weight room or aerobics classes.

“They seem to get a lot of benefit from the change of scenery and the resources we provide,” said Joey Cuzzi, executive director of the East Boston YMCA.

The Y, she said, is now examining other sites in Boston to replicate the program.

On a recent morning, about a half dozen students gathered around small tables in the Y’s learning lab, doing homework or taking practice exams on Chromebook laptops. Monitoring their activities was Jennifer Sullivan, a guidance counselor from East Boston High School.

Rudy Pineda, 18, said he appreciated the opportunity to take Algebra II and Spanish II so he can graduate this month and head to Army basic training in October.

“You do your work, and then you have something else to do,” he said.

Alex Sandovao, 15, an incoming 10th-grader, said he likes being able to work at his own pace and being able to go back to review a lesson that he did not understand the first time.

“It’s not like in school; you can’t rewind the teacher,” he said.

But Sandovao, like some other students enrolled this summer, has not checked out the fitness facilities yet.

“I want to start using it,” he said. “It is a free membership.”

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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