Boston is exploring ways to make summer programming accessible for more families, including full-day summer programs that match parents’ work schedules, transportation to and from programs, and before- and after-program care, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said on Thursday.
Of the district’s approximately 50,000 students, 14,243, or about 28 percent, participated in at least one of 212 community- or school-based programs during the summer of 2021, according to Boston After School & Beyond. But the numbers fell short of a district goal to make sure every student had a summer plan.
“Our goal last year was for every student to have a plan for summer, whether it’s a BPS-sponsored program, a summer camp, a community program, a job, whatever it may be. It’s important that students have a plan,” Cassellius said during a virtual event with Boston After School & Beyond that debriefed the successes of Boston’s summer learning programs. “We need to make that goal a reality this year, and our teams are already hard at work to understand how we meet more of our families where they are and provide services that they’ve said they need.”
Cassellius said the district has heard from many families about the summer services they need for their children, including programming that better accommodates varying work schedules, and “we are listening.”
Summer programs in 2021 hit “high performance benchmarks” and gave students autonomy over their summer activities, Cassellius said, but there’s more that can be done.
Though Boston summer school enrollment in 2021 was up by 18 percent over pre-pandemic levels, the Globe previously reported, experts and education advocates had hoped for higher participation after a year that included mostly remote and hybrid learning experiences. Among English learners, fewer students enrolled in a city-sponsored summer program in 2021 than in 2019.
“We’ve made so much progress, but yet we know that there’s still a lot to do to expand these programs for students to every single student across the city, so that they stay engaged in their summer and in school,” Cassellius said.
Thursday’s virtual event was largely a celebration of the progress made in 2021, particularly compared with the previous summer, when most students participated in only remote summer programming. According to data shared by Boston After School & Beyond, 73 percent of summer programming was remote in 2020, compared with 17 percent this past summer.
More than half, 55 percent, of programming was in person this past summer. Thirty-one percent of those in-person or hybrid programs were located in Dorchester and Roxbury.
“When you see learning in action, what you also see is engagement, trust, confidence, curiosity, and you see a set of skills being built. These are skills that you can’t merely hear about and learn. You have to practice them,” said Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond.
Of the estimated 11,200 of students for whom Boston After School & Beyond had age data, 44 percent were 10 or younger, 28 percent were 11 to 13 years old, and 28 percent were 14 and older.
District leaders and community partners also spoke Thursday about the importance of addressing students’ social and emotional needs, especially during a pandemic that has continued to disrupt the normalcy of many students’ home lives.
Elizabeth Milewski, executive director of STEM programming for Boston Public Schools, said that at a program for rising second- to sixth-graders this past summer, educators focused on helping students connect with one another and their teachers.
The educators also created an environment where students were encouraged to innovate and embrace failure as part of the learning process, she said.
“In order for the kids to do their work, they had to feel like there was a staff member that was their own personal cheerleader,” she said. “The staff knew that they had to be supportive and this idea that if we’re creating innovators ... we have to encourage imagination. We have to support kids when they fail and help them get back up.”