Last summer, Wesly Gomez and Childebert Jacques spent some of their mornings studying. But by the afternoon, it was time for fun.
Gomez and Jacques, now second-graders at Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown, took trips to the local pool — a much needed remedy for mornings full of schoolwork.
The boys are just two of thousands who participate in a summer learning program offered by the city of Boston and highlighted Monday during an event at the Franklin Park Zoo. One of the initiatives spotlighted, Boston Summer Learning, is a summer school and enrichment program that combines conventional courses with hands-on activities in hopes of exposing students to different parts of the city and keeping learning fun.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said a record 14,000 students are participating in 2019 city-sponsored summer programs, a huge leap from the 232 students when it originated in 2010. There are also opportunities being offered at 19 new locations this year.
Walsh spoke Monday at the zoo, an appropriate venue for the program’s anniversary, as the site is host to a five-week program. Children learn physics and biology in the morning, and then explore the zoo in the afternoon. Each student is assigned an animal, and must design and present a habitat tailored to their animal and based on research they completed.
Seated under trees to block themselves from the sun, 30 elementary school students joined the mayor, the city’s new superintendent, community partners and quite a few reptiles to celebrate the initiative aimed at lower-income students. Although the programs are designed to be fun, they are also geared to combat the “summer slide,” a term used to describe the decrease in academic retention students experience when they leave the classroom for the season.
Research shows that lower-income students are disproportionately affected by the summer slide, and the effects are cumulative as they continue through school. Walsh said keeping students educated in the summer was a key to narrowing the achievement gap.
Both public and private institutions fund these programs, and investments for 2019 were projected at $3.2 million. Governor Charlie Baker pledged $500,000 in the fiscal year budget Walsh said. Boston After School & Beyond, a nonprofit that has managed Boston Summer Learning since the beginning, is also a major donor. In 2017, the organization donated $700,000.