Summer Learning in Boston: Making it Fun, Making it Count

We’ve been hearing a lot this summer about retooled programs that are making learning fun for kids while combating the summer slide. Across the country, in cities from Jacksonville, Fla., to Oakland, CA, public school districts are partnering with nonprofit organizations to offer their students rich programming that combines rigorous academics with enrichment such as arts, outdoor exploration, and vocational experiences.

Last week CBASS had the chance to visit one such program. Thompson Island, located in Boston’s harbor and managed by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, is home to a variety of outdoor adventure and experiential learning programs for youth—including one participant in Boston’s Summer Learning Project. A collaborative initiative between Boston Public Schools, the Boston Opportunity Agenda, and Boston After School and Beyond, the Summer Learning Project draws on the resources of schools and community organizations to offer k-12 students opportunities to increase their academic achievement as well as build valuable skills for school and career success.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

What does summer learning look like in Boston? Well, for rising fourth-graders on Thompson Island, it includes a ferry ride, team building, and hands-on science learning. The day begins at 9 am, when school buses drop students off at the dock to be greeted by Boston Public Schools teachers and Outward Bound facilitators and ferried over to the island. As at all Summer Learning Project sites, students spend mornings buckling down on math and reading in classrooms, but in the afternoons they’re outdoors, working to balance as a group on a teeter-totter in the woods, or exploring the island with rangers from the National Park Service. The latter is particularly popular. With a diverse environment that includes bluffs, intertidal zones, and salt marshes, “every little ecosystem becomes a learning place,” says Arthur Pearson, president and CEO of Thompson Island Outward Bound.

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Summer Learning Day—A Celebration and a Challenge

Guest post by Bob Seidel

This Friday, June 21, is Summer Learning Day.  It’s a day to celebrate summer learning successes—and to challenge all of us to make high-quality summer learning opportunities a reality for all who need them.

Why is this so important?  If we don’t exercise our brains for an entire summer, we lose much of what we’ve learned.  Research shows that, without stimulating summer activities, students tend to lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math.  Low-income students also tend to lose more than two months in reading achievement.  The cumulative effects of summer learning loss mean that as much as two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading is attributable to differences in summer learning opportunities in the elementary years.

Summertime is also important for young people’s health and nutrition.  Without access to organized programs providing opportunities for exercise, young people’s tendency toward obesity becomes aggravated.  And among those who receive federally-subsidized meals during the school year, only one in seven receives those meals during the summer.

The good news is that there are effective solutions out there.  Research shows that high-quality summer learning programs not only stem summer learning loss, they help students make positive gains. A recently published report from California’s Partnership for Children and Youth, Summer Matters:  How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success, showed that during a six-week program in the summer of 2012, students improved their vocabulary by nearly 1.5 grade levels [pdf, 2.9 MB].

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