More students than ever participated in summer programs throughout the Boston area last summer, an encouraging sign for educators who are focused on addressing academic and social emotional learning losses driven by the pandemic.
Boston After School and Beyond, a nonprofit that partners with Boston Public Schools and community-based organizations to offer high quality after school and summer programs for students, provided 255 summer programs in 2023 — 17 more than the previous year, and about double the number of programs offered in 2016. Nearly half of the programs were affiliated with BPS, and were either high school credit recovery programs or learning programs run by schools or community organizations.
More than 17,000 students participated in the programs, which were located throughout Boston and its neighboring communities. The vast majority of students served — 90 percent — attend BPS schools, with the remaining enrolled in charters, parochial or other private schools, or the METCO program, the Greater Boston’s racial integration program for public schools. Of those who participated, more than 80 percent were students of color.
The programs also had the highest average attendance, at 91.4 percent, in the past five years, a key indicator for improved academic and social emotional outcomes. The summer offerings, funded primarily by BPS and the state education department, are free for all participating students. Of the $6.4 million that funded the summer programs, BPS invested $4 million, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education paid $1.9 million, and private donors gave $500,000.
“Post pandemic, these kinds of school and summer programs are more important than ever, because we know that our students are still recovering their mental health, their social emotional support needed, their academic setbacks, it’s still an ongoing recovery effort,” BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper said last week. “It’s these types of experiences that help to piece them together as whole children again.”
More than half of the students were 10 or younger, and about 44 percent had previously participated in a Boston After School and Beyond summer program. The organization estimates about a quarter of children ages 5 to 14 who live in the Boston area attended one of the programs.
Research shows that the lack of participation in learning programs over the summer can set back students’ academic progress. Participation in summer learning programs not only can notably improve students’ academic and social emotional growth, but also reduce the achievement gap between students from low-income and higher-income households, data show.
Boston After School and Beyond programs collect data from its programs to measure metrics like enrollment, attendance, and impact on students in regards to skill acquisition, social emotional growth and development, and academic learning.
Students who participated in one of the Boston After School and Beyond programs had statistically significant growth in more than 10 social emotional skills, including critical thinking, empathy, reflection, and perseverance, according to the organization.
“We embed academics in really fun enriching activities, often in a community based nonprofit, so that they get the benefit of enrichment and contextualized learning as they’re boosting their academic skills,” said Chris Smith, the president and executive director of Boston After School and Beyond. But “we still have a lot of work to do. Kids have not fully recovered from the pandemic. We’re going to have to continue to focus on this to continue to surround them with supportive, engaging environments.”
State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley last week said the summer programs are “crucial to a child’s development.”
“When you’re talking about recovery, the most important thing you can do is to get kids back into that routine of learning,” Riley said. “I’d like to hope that that routine in the future will consist of the traditional school year, but also a summer component … I honestly believe it’s the way to get our kids back and beyond where they were prior to the pandemic.”