Boston’s summer programs help combat learning loss during break
Ten-year-old Brandon hunched over the chapter-book “Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)” on a carpeted classroom floor in Allston one recent morning, shyly explaining that he is not generally a big reader, but the books assigned this summer are “pretty good.”
“The teachers are really helping me to be a better student,” he said. “At my regular school, I mostly get in trouble, but here, I don’t really.”
Brandon, who is preparing to enter fifth grade, is one of about 120 students at the Jackson/Mann K-8 School and a record 6,500 pupils across the city enrolled in 78 programs designed to educate and engage children during the summer.
Some students are trying to catch up to grade level, while others are exploring athletics, the arts, or the natural world.
Studies show that all students lose skills and knowledge during summer breaks. But the loss gradually becomes cumulative for children from low-income families, many of whom lack ready access to summer programs.
The programs can help students reduce learning losses and narrow the achievement gap, according to data released last December from an ongoing study conducted in Boston and other urban areas by the RAND Corporation.
Tommy Chang, superintendent of Boston schools, said summer programs are critical for urban children.
“They help our students make the best possible use of the summer months by keeping them engaged and on track, and preparing them to start the school year ready to learn,” Chang said in a statement.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh wants to further expand summer learning to enroll 10,000 children in 100 programs within the next two years, he announced this month . “In order to create a brighter future for our city, we must give our young people the opportunity to have valuable and productive summer experiences,” Walsh said in a statement. “I am proud of the work we have done working with our community and private partners to create so many opportunities this summer, and we will continue to strive to do even better.”
Children are learning not only in classrooms but through hands-on experiences at sites including Hale Reservation in Westwood, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, and Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester.
“Kids are doing activities that are interesting unto themselves — learning to play a sport, or arts,” said Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond, which works with the School Department to organize the Boston Summer Learning Project.
“What’s really interesting is when the enrichment connects to the academics: activities like measuring volume on Thompson Island or developing a business plan at Sociedad Latina,” Smith said, referring to an antipoverty organization. “It provides an opportunity for students to make real-world connections to academic content.”
The Summer Learning Project is a public-private collaboration supported in part by almost $2 million in private funding, up from $600,000 in 2010, its first year, according to officials.
Other local organizations also offer a variety of summer learning options.
The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley has expanded its Summer Learning Collaborative to serve more than 3,000 children at 25 sites, including YMCA locations in Brighton, Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, and Roxbury.
The Boston Public Library offers programs for teens, including classes on software such as Apple’s iMovie and GarageBand, and a recent workshop on writing and drawing autobiographical comic books.
And the Jamaica Plain program Families Creating Together has hosted a series of arts workshops for children and families with disabilities.
“We think of it as a program of families communicating through art,” said Ed Pazzanese, founder of Families Creating Together.
Summer programs at the Jackson/Mann School operate through a partnership between the School Department and Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL.
The education nonprofit is working with about 800 students in its English Language Learners Summer Enrichment Academy, which includes classes for hearing-impaired children studying English and American sign language at Jackson/Mann.
BELL also has increased its enrollment of third- through eighth-grade Boston students in its Smarter Summers program for at-risk, low-income students, to about 1,000, up from 784 last year, according to the organization.
Smarter Summers helps students struggling to catch up to peers, said Sue Bonaiuto, the organization’s executive director for Massachusetts.
“They’re academically struggling, and as result, often they’re not very confident in their schoolwork,” Bonaiuto said. “Sometimes that can come out in behavioral issues. . . . The goal of the summer program is to do assessments that target exactly what is it academically that those students need to get back on track.”
Across town at Charlestown High School, about two-dozen incoming freshmen are getting to know the campus, as well as some teachers and classmates, through a pilot program designed to make the transition from middle school to high school less stressful.
The teens study academics but also build relationships through sports, debate, and musical performances.
“It’s getting kids to understand the skills necessary to succeed in high school, [and] one of them is going to be participating — that’s a huge skill,” said Christophe Teulet-Cote, assistant headmaster of the school.
As Claudia Garcia, 14, took a water break during a soccer game in the school’s gymnasium, she said she “jumped at the opportunity” to be more prepared.
“I’ve made friends here that are probably going to go to my class,” she said. “They’re all really social people.”