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Summer Learning Programs Increase Student Achievement in Boston

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DORCHESTER, Nov. 4, 2015 - More than 1,800 students participated in summer learning opportunities and achieved significant growth in reading and math skills, new test results show.

Partnerships between Boston Public Schools, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), and philanthropic supporters enabled 1,820 scholars in grades K-to-8 participated in summer learning programs at 23 school-based sites across the city. During the five-week program, scholars gained an average of two months in reading skills and three months in math skills, the equivalent of 20 percent and 30 percent of a school year, respectively.

For most of those attending, the alternative would have been the "summer slide," the phenomenon by which children and youth from low-income households and communities lose at least two months in reading and math skills during the school break for lack of access to summer camps, family travel or other learning opportunities.

The test data, from computer-adaptive assessments built to measure progress against rigorous standards, show that students participating in BELL's academic and enrichment activities not only avoided summer learning loss but made up ground and were better prepared to succeed as they entered a new school year.

Teachers and parents also reported the students made important gains in self-confidence and social skills during the summer. Teachers overwhelmingly agreed the summer work had helped them develop their professional skills.

"I feel more confident in all my classes-especially math and language arts," explains Hunter, an 8th grader. "I feel like I can excel if I can get on the right track in ELA (language arts). I like to write music, and I want to have a good vocabulary so I can use my words to better express myself."

BELL "scholars" participated in summer programs that blended rigorous academic support and instruction in the morning with hands-on enrichment activities and community engagement in the afternoon. Activities ranged from art, music, and STEM to field trips to the MIT Museum, Harvard University, and the Hill Holliday advertising agency. Programs operated for six hours a day, five days per week for five weeks during the summer. BELL and its partners prioritized enrolling students who were struggling in school and who lacked access to summer learning programs.

In addition to the academic impact of summer learning, students strengthened their social skills, participated in physical activities and accessed nutritious meals. Nine out of ten students increased their self-confidence, according to teachers, while nine out of ten students enjoyed their summer learning experience, according to parents. The summer programs also helped nine out of ten parents become more involved in their child's education.

This summer, program themes encouraged scholars to "be extraordinary" and to cultivate a growth mindset where success is possible and earned through hard work, focus, and resilience. At the end of the program, 87% of parents reported that scholars showed an increased ability to overcome challenges.

BELL and Boston Public Schools shared responsibility for program expenses, with the nonprofit raising funding from local and national philanthropies and the school district contributing funding and in-kind use of space, utilities, and meals. Local donors supporting summer learning in Boston include the Associated Grant Makers' Summer Fund, the Charles Hayden Foundation, the Cogan Family Foundation, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Deloitte, the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, EMC, Ernst & Young, The Foundation to be Named Later, Goulston & Storrs PC, the Horizon Beverage Company, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, the Once Upon A Time Foundation, the Paul & Edith Babson Foundation, Pitney Bowes Foundation, Robert Treat Paine Association, Roy A. Hunt Foundation, Santander Bank, State Street Foundation, The TJX Foundation, and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

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