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Salem News: Expanded summer school receives high marks in Salem


SALEM, MA - August 2, 2013 - A note arrived at the Bentley School the other day from a parent whose fourth-grade son is enrolled in a summer program.

"Thank you for all your support in (my son's) highest achievement," the mother wrote. "The teachers have opened (him) up. I believe he will succeed in future grades."

The Bentley Summer Program, targeting 100 elementary school children who struggle with reading and writing, has been getting high marks since an auspicious beginning last summer. At the end of the four-week program in 2012, tests showed a marked improvement in reading skills.

As a result, the program doubled in size this summer. And, once again, it seems to be working.

"Every student has either maintained or increased their reading level, which we think is pretty good," said Cami Condie, a Salem State University faculty member and the program's director.

The Bentley program, a partnership with Salem State, is one of about a dozen summer school offerings this year by the Salem public schools for more than 600 students in grades K-12, which represents almost 15 percent of citywide enrollment.

It is part of a push by the School Department to reduce "summer learning loss" while raising skills in core subjects like English and math that are key parts of the state MCAS exams.

The expanded summer school programs are part of a "turnaround" effort the School Department launched last year after being designated a Level 4, low-performing district by the state based on several years of low scores in the MCAS exam at Bentley.

Salem State has teamed with public school teachers in the Bentley program, which is targeting a school with high numbers of children from low-income families and homes where English is not the primary language.

They teach subject matter, including reading, writing and science, though class work, field trips, experiments, scavenger hunts and other activities.

Another academic effort being watched closely is the BELL Summer Arts Academy, which is held at the Nathaniel Bowditch School for about 90 students from elementary schools across the city.

BELL - Building Educated Leaders for Life - is a partnership between the Salem public schools and BELL, a nonprofit which specializes in after-school and summer programs.

Students go to school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. They begin the day with breakfast; spend the morning in small classes that stress reading, language arts and math; and devote the afternoons to enrichment programs in the arts - theater, storytelling, dancing and other activities.

"It's a wonderful program," said Soraya Rodriguez, a Salem school employee who is site manager of the BELL program. "I wish I had this when my kids were little."

The program is being watched closely because Salem plans to expand summer school offerings in future years, not only for special education or low-income children, but for high-achieving students seeking enrichment activities.

School officials had hoped for a much larger turnout for BELL, but sign-ups were held late in the year due to delays securing final approvals. Superintendent Stephen Russell said he hopes to enroll many more students next summer.

By Tom Dalton

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