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Boston to Double Participation in Summer Learning, Expand Program Choices

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Students in Boston will have a lot more summer learning opportunities this year thanks to the expansion of a program that brings city, school, and community leaders together to find new ways to serve kids.

Nearly 12,000 Boston students are expected to participate in 120 programs this year through the Boston Summer Learning Community. That's more than double the number of students who took part in the initiative last year.

Hale Reservation 1 - Tiffany Knight.jpgThis expansion follows a challenge issued last summer to program leaders by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang. They wanted to see 10,000 kids enrolled in 100 summer learning programs by 2017.

"The overwhelming response to our challenge proves that our community sees the need and shares our vision for high-quality learning opportunities for all young people," said Walsh in a press release. "I thank all of the organizations that have stepped up this year to meet our ambitious goals."  

Chris Smith is the executive director of Boston After School & Beyond.

"By working with so many more programs and, by extension, reaching so many more kids, we're able to improve the performance of the programs and outcomes for kids," said Smith.

He hopes to see the programs improve through the collection of data. All of the programs have agreed to use what Smith deems a "common suite of evaluation tools," so each one will be measuring the same factors, such as structure, design, and student engagement. That information is expected to provide feedback that the organizations can use to improve their offerings year round.

Smith says everything is measured from the perspective of outside external evaluators and from the perspective of kids who participate in the programs.

 The 5th Quarter

Eighteen programs in the Boston Summer Learning Community will be part of an initiative started by Superintendent Chang. Through the 5th Quarter Initiative, certified teachers and program instructors attend joint sessions of professional development. The teachers also work with the summer programs to develop content that links academics, enrichment, and the skills necessary to succeed in college. About 1,000 students are expected to take part in this initiative, which runs Monday through Friday for five weeks.

"We worked with the Boston Public Schools to create this model, so that kids didn't simply have to choose between going to traditional summer school and going to a great program," said Smith. "Programs will collaborate with schools and teachers so the education and enrichment are part and parcel of the same effort."

This program targets students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not seek out a summer learning opportunity on their own.

"Summer is a ready-made opportunity to address both the achievement and the opportunity gaps," said Smith. "This model has shown us that you can focus on academics and social-emotional skills simultaneously. They're intertwined. When you align your training, your evaluation and your capacity building, you can make a measurable difference on these outcomes."


Among the community partners participating in the 5th Quarter Initiative are the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, and Zoo New England.

The wide variety of organizations taking part in the 5th Quarter continues through the Boston Summer Learning Community at large. Partners as diverse as the Berklee College of Music and the Hale Reservation are involved.

"The guiding principle is that each of these programs should play to its strengths, and there's flexibility in implementation based on the specific needs and interests of the kids and the resources of the program, but that's coupled with consistency in evaluation so that we can learn what's working within individual programs and across the network of programs," said Smith.

Photo: Students take part in a summer learning activity at Hale Reservation in Westwood, Mass. (Tiffany Knight)

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