A nonprofit founded in 1992

Marin Independent Journal: San Rafael City Schools to offer new summer enrichment program

Two hundred San Rafael City Schools middle-schoolers will participate in a free summer academic program this year thanks to the district's new partnership with a Massachusetts nonprofit.

The incoming sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students will attend the Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, summer learning program at Davidson Middle School about six hours a day for five weeks in June and July, said Joe Small, the Dorchester, Mass., organization's Vice President of School and Government Partnerships.

"It is the district's determination as to the eligible students that they would like to provide this (opportunity)," Small said. "Traditionally, we're talking about students who don't have some of the advantages that some of the middle-income students have. Predominantly low-income environments and high need."

Students without opportunities for summer learning, enrichment or travel tend to experience more "summer learning loss" than their counterparts, resulting in a significant knowledge gap over multiple years, Small said.

"Our hope and our mission is to help transform the life trajectory of students who are coming from low-income, high-need communities by providing them with an opportunity to close that gap through summer learning," he said.

Founded in 1992, BELL provides summer and after-school educational programs for more than 15,000 students in seven states. The organization is in the process of expanding its programs to California with new partnerships with San Rafael and the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, Small said.

During the program this summer, San Rafael students will receive literacy and math instruction, as well as physical education and other enrichment. There will be regular field trips, community service and breakfast and lunch.

"It's a six-hour day - the first three hours are academic support and it's based on where students are," said Michael Watenpaugh, the San Rafael district's superintendent. "It could be very individualized based on the students in the program, and the goal is to accelerate kids up to grade-level standards. The afternoon is enrichment: art, music, (physical education)."

State budget cuts have forced the district to scale back its summer programs in recent years. Last year San Rafael City Schools served about 450 students from elementary to high school in summer programs, down from about 1,500 students a few years earlier, Watenpaugh said.

The district has committed to pay $91,822 from an After School Education and Safety grant for the new program, with BELL providing around $500,000 through its own funding and local and national matching donations, according to a district report.

BELL will be hiring about 10 teachers and 10 teaching assistants for the program.

The district hopes to bring the program back next year in an expanded form and may pursue other partnerships with BELL for after-school academics, Watenpaugh said.

"We've already done outreach to the community," Watenpaugh said, noting that parent reaction has been "very positive, very excited" thus far.

"I'm sure we'll have a waiting list," he said.

Written by Jessica Bernstein-Wax, Reporter, Marin Independent Journal