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MassLive: BELL Summer programs fight learning gap in Springfield

By ANOKHEE DAVE, Deputy director of programs, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), and SUSAN O'CONNOR | Director, Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative

Image removed.Ah, summer - that special time of the year for BBQs, beaches, and ballgames. Students are wrapping up their final exams as the school year winds down to a close.

For many, the summer means camp, family vacations, or trips to the museum, park or library. All these experiences serve to keep kids active and their brains engaged.

Unfortunately, many children and youth do not have the opportunity to participate in enriching activities such as these. The alternative for these kids is a summer of sitting on the couch watching television. It's here in these living rooms where summer learning loss takes its greatest toll.

Two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between low-income and middle-class children can be attributed to unequal access to learning opportunities during the summer.

As a community, it's our responsibility to provide these kids with options for summer education and enrichment, which can have a profound impact on their life trajectories.

In the months ahead, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative, and Talk/Read/Succeed will connect 3,600 Springfield youth and their families to summer learning opportunities and resources that they otherwise would not have. While each of our organization's approaches to this important issue differs, we share one common goal: to ensure that all children have an equal chance to develop the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond.

BELL is once again partnering with Springfield Public Schools to offer its summer program to 1,000 of the city's struggling students, whom BELL recognizes as "scholars." The six-week intensive program combines rigorous math and literacy instruction with enrichment opportunities like leadership skills development, hands-on science activities, and field trips to local museums. Each scholar has access to a healthy breakfast and lunch, and Fridays are "mentor days" where scholars enjoy visits from guest speakers and participate in service projects. This program is designed not just to improve academic performance, but to raise self-esteem and get kids excited about learning.

The Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative is providing supports to 40 programs in Western Massachusetts, serving 2,500 children and youth in school and community-based programs like Y's, Boys and Girls Clubs and Community Centers. The summer focus is on fun thematic curriculum linked to reading activities. Some sites focus learning on nature, where children explore ponds, meadows, and forests, while others focus on healthy eating and fitness, and still others engage youth in engineering design challenges.

The summer experience includes field trips, fitness, reading and writing activities, and the arts. Most importantly, HSLI keeps the learning faucet ON during the summer. Talk/Read/Succeed will implement the HSLI model with 90 students from two Springfield Housing Authority developments. The summer program is one component of a comprehensive approach to working with families, schools, and community programs to support early literacy. Teachers from the children's schools are excited to be working with children on a nature-based curriculum with embedded literacy strategies.

In addition to programming for children, parents will attend Family Camp one evening per week, during which the whole family will share in the fun of summer learning and learn how to create literacy-rich home environments. While there are several benefits summer learning can bring to a community, the biggest of all is the educational payoff: BELL scholars typically gain three months or more of core literacy and math skills and start school in the fall better prepared to succeed; students served by Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative have also demonstrated gains in literacy and the programs that are supported have made strides in program quality on warm and respectful staff-child relationships and increased engagement in learning. Each of our organizations sees summer as an opportunity to help close the achievement gap for children living in under-resourced urban communities.

It's time to grab summer by the horns, put an end to summer learning loss, and give all of Springfield's children the chance to succeed.

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