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Marin Independent Journal: Students show gains in San Rafael summer program

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Posted: 10/25/2014 06:57:00 PM PDT

By Laith Agha

San Rafael City Schools is growing a summer program to make sure lower-performing children - mostly English language learners - are ready for the new school year.

A recent survey released by the school district and its partner, Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, shows that it is working.

"Some kids lose learning in the summer months, so by the time school starts, they have to be retaught some things," said district Superintendent Michael Watenpaugh. The summer program "makes a huge difference. The fact that they have not only not lost learning, but have gained learning, they are actually ready to deal with the curriculum on the first day of school."

The program involved 491 middle and elementary school students from the district, all of whom either were not performing up to grade level or were English language learners.

Instead of losing learning, the program's average student gained about two weeks in reading skills and nearly a month of learning in math skills, according to BELL.

A survey conducted by BELL shows that parents nearly unanimously found their children became more confident in their academic skills and showed more enthusiasm for school. Attendance was 93 percent, including 97 percent among the middle school students.

"When you think of kids, 11, 12, 13 years old, having that kind of attendance in the summer, the program must be working," Watenpaugh said.

BELL spokesman Michael Sikora said the Massachusetts-based organization gears its summer programming to feel more like a camp.

"We're trying to redefine summer school," Sikora said. "We're trying to transform it into something more engaging, a place where (young) scholars want to be."

The program was six hours a day for five weeks, with the older students meeting at Davidson Middle School and the younger students going to Bahia Vista Elementary School. The morning sessions focused on academics, while the afternoons were dedicated to enrichment activities, such as the arts and sports.

San Rafael is one of two districts in the state working with BELL. The partnership began in the summer of 2012, with just the district's middle school students. It expanded this summer to include elementary school students.

The program cost the district $322,000, of which $142,000 came from the state After School and Education Safety program, district officials said.

Watenpaugh said the district is looking to add students to the summer programming, through BELL and possibly by adding other services.