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BELL, Boston Public Schools & Partners Create Summer Learning Opportunities for 2,200 Students

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BOSTON, June 11, 2015 - Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), the education nonprofit that has developed and refined a summer learning program to help children from low-income families, will join Boston Public Schools (BPS) this year in significantly expanding the number of at-risk students given the opportunity to exercise their academic and social skills and avoid the "summer slide."

The "Smarter Summers" program, a joint initiative of BELL and BPS with support from local and national funders, will expand enrollment from 784 students last year to 1,400 students in grades 3-8 this coming summer. The program will be offered free-of-charge to low-income, at-risk students at 12 schools in 2015 compared to 11 last year.

BELL also will operate the English Language Learners Summer Enrichment Academy in partnership with BPS for 800 students.

BELL has worked with BPS since 2011 to expand summer learning opportunities for middle-school students. In 2014, the Smarter Summers partnership was augmented to include struggling 4th and 5th graders.

During the summer months, many children lack quality learning experiences and thus lose academic skills over the school break. Such losses - two months or more each summer -- accumulate year after year. Studies have shown that by the end of eighth grade, summer learning loss can account for 66 percent of the achievement gap between low- and high-income students.

BELL's summer learning programs will launch on July 13 and operate for up to 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, through August 13. Programs blends small-group instruction in reading and math in the morning with hands-on enrichment courses, activities in the afternoon and fieldtrips on Fridays. Students' skill levels are assessed at the beginning of the program using formative assessments, built for measuring progress against Common Core State Standards. Teachers utilize assessment data to inform and drive instruction. A second short formative assessment at the end of the summer will measure student growth and help teachers gain a clear picture of student needs and hit the ground running when the new school year begins.

Last summer, the scholars participating in the program gained skills in math and English literacy and avoided summer learning loss.

Of the 784 who participated, 72 percent began the summer underperforming on their reading skills, scoring in the lowest 25th percentile at the start of the summer, and 58 percent were seriously underperforming in math. By the end of the five-week program, the underperforming children gained more than three months of reading skills, the equivalent of what's taught during 30 percent of a regular school year, and nearly six months of math skills, or more than half a grade level of growth.

"BELL's mission is to help scholars improve their academic skills and begin the new school year ready to excel," noted Sue Bonaiuto, BELL's executive director for Massachusetts. "Thanks to BPS and our funders, we have a partnership that allows us to do just that. And since Boston is our hometown, the expansion of this partnership is really exciting and important to us."

The Boston Children's Museum (BCM), the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), Playworks, and Apprentice Learning are a few of the community partners who will be contributing to the quality of children's summer learning experiences through the Smarter Summers programs and English Language Learners Summer Enrichment Academies. Families will access free educational resources and events through The Boston Children's Museum, scholars will participate in the Creative Minds arts curriculum from MCC and Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, recess movement, and play activities that support social-emotional growth will be led by Playworks staff, and scholars transitioning into high school will participate in hands-on job training through Apprentice Learning.

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