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Springfield receives funds to host pilot summer education program

Date: 4/4/2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield was one of four communities in the Commonwealth that will be the location of a pilot project for an innovative after-school and summer education program for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Mayor Domenic Sarno was joined at an announcement at Van Sickle Middle School on March 30 with Karyl Resnick, the coordinator of the 21st Century Learning Centers program of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE).

The city received $124,000 from ESE to fund the program that will run 265 hours over six weeks and serve 145 students. The other school systems to receive a grant were North Adams, Wareham and Triton Regional School District.
Studies have shown that students from lower economic group households are more inclined to suffer from "learning loss" during the summer months.

School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram said the program would build on existing summer programs. Studies have shown, Ingram added, that students from lower economic group households are more inclined to suffer from "learning loss" during the summer months.

Resnick said ESE sees the after-school programs schools offer as "an extension of the school day."

The program is a collaboration between Springfield College, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, Tufts University, the Hampden County Regional Employment Board, Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative, Van Sickle's Principal Cheryl DeSpirt, and a district science specialist and two of Van Sickle's science teachers, who were trained in LEGO robotics.

The selected students will spend two weeks on the Springfield College campus as part of the program. Other components will include a course in robotics and an introduction to job training, according to Paula Thayer, assistant director of Recreation in the Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Department.

Ingram said the program is "an existing opportunity to engage kids in a different way."

Once the pilot program is over in the four school districts, Resnick said the results would be evaluated.

Thayer said all students in the selected grades would receive an invitation to participate in the program and there will be an emphasis to include the elementary school whose students will eventually attend Van Sickle, Thayer explained.

An additional benefit is the teachers who supervise the program will receive 54 hours of professional development training, Resnick added.

Sarno said, "The city's Recreation Division's planning team went forth on this ESE application knowing that the majority of summer school programs through the Commonwealth are created with the intent for students to recover credits. This traditional approach to summer school is often founded on, and focuses on, a child's deficits. In contrast, the division's proposal was designed with the explicit intent to build on youth assets and prevent regression of skills, increase time on learning through meaningful enrichment activities and stem summer learning loss. Children will have the opportunity to learn about robotics while having fun, and still being able to participate in an innovative, summer learning experience."

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