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“Smarter Summer” for Hundreds of Massachusetts Middle Schoolers

July 21, 2011

BOSTON - It's not the summer school of yesteryear. It's more like a swanky private camp.

Thousands of low- to middle-income students in Boston and Springfield have been attending a Smarter Summers program designed to stop learning loss and provide fun at the same time with elective studies, music and field trips.

The focus, says Sarah Pitcock, director of the Smarter Summers Project at the National Summer Learning Association , is on children entering grades 6 through 9, a time she calls a unique window for learning opportunities.

"The habits and attitudes and abilities that young people have by ninth grade are highly indicative of the success that they'll have in college and careers."

Extensive research shows that unequal summer learning opportunities play a key role in the achievement gap between low- and middle-income children and those in families who can afford private programs, Pitcock says.

Dean Bradley works with BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a Boston-based nonprofit which is running summer learning programs in the two Massachusetts cities.

"There's a great science program under way in the Springfield sites, and in Boston we have a variety of partners that we work with. One of my favorites is Tenacity, which is teaching the children how to play tennis."

Classes in the Smarter Summers programs are also much smaller than those in the regular school year, Pitcock says, and each class has two teachers.

"We're hoping that we're going to not only stem that summer learning loss and stop it, but we're going to actually accelerate learning so that they get into the best high schools (and) know the opportunities that exist for them in college."

Smarter Summers programs are being run in a number of cities with a grant from the Walmart Foundation which provides more than 20,000 slots in high-quality summer learning programs.

Details about summer learning loss and tips for prevention are online at SmarterSummers.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA