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PROVIDENCE JOURNAL HIGHLIGHTS CBC IN
PASA SUMMER SCHOLARS FEATURE
“It’s the only way to engage kids in a meaningful way,” says John O’Flaherty, executive director of the Community Boating Center in Providence. “They earn bragging rights: ‘I learned how to use a submarine,’ or ‘I picked up trash from the ocean floor.’ Some of our kids don’t realize that Providence is a waterfront city. It’s important that everyone has an experience on Narragansett Bay.
Summer school in Providence is now a hands-on experience
By Linda Borg, Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Remember when summer school meant sitting in a stuffy classroom, watching a lone fly beat against the windowpane while a teacher droned on about the difference between “mean” and “average”?
Well, in a few school districts, summer offers something different, especially for middle school students who are at a crossroads in their educational careers.
For students from Providence schools, for example, it means hands-on experiences such as operating a mini-submarine, sailing on Narragansett Bay or growing trout.
The city has joined forces with the Providence After School Alliance and nine community partners to deliver math, science and technology in fresh ways: sending middle school students to collect water samples or teaching them to sail, and then connecting those experiences with the classroom.
“It’s real, not theoretical,” says Patrick Duhan, the director of expanded learning for the district. “These hands-on experiences make math and data collection real. The focus is on inquiry. These are the skills that our kids are missing the most.”
In most districts, summer school is also for students who are failing one or more subjects. Teachers try to cram a semester’s worth of instruction into four weeks.
Providence, in collaboration with PASA, decided to try something new.
The AfterZone Summer Scholars Program is no longer aimed solely at failing students. It’s open to every one. The idea is that all urban students gain from this kind of field experience and that students learn from one another. (The School Department does offer the After-Zone program to low-performing students before opening it up to all middle school children.)
At the Museum of Natural History last week, two dozen middle school children, wearing surgical gloves and bright orange PASA T-shirts, dissected owl pellets (the regurgitated, undigested remains of what owls eat). By comparing the pellets to a chart, the students were able to identify what the owl recently had for breakfast. Then, they constructed bar graphs that measure how much of the owl’s latest meal was composed of rodents or birds.
“This is so much better than regular school,” said Brittany Samms, 11. “We get to do real stuff here.”
“You get to go on field trips,” said Brandon McDonald, 12, of Hopkins Middle School.
Middle school is a critical transition. That’s when student performance typically begins to plummet as students are asked to tackle more complex problem-solving, not to mention moving from the safety of one teacher and one classroom to many.
In grade 4, students shift from learning to read to reading to learn. If that leap doesn’t happen, students are in danger of falling behind in middle school, which, ultimately, puts them at risk of failure in high school.
Duhan says that children who aren’t exposed to rich summer activities lose two to three months of learning over the summer. That’s why it’s critical for urban students to be afforded the same summer-enrichment opportunities as their more-affluent peers.
“It’s the only way to engage kids in a meaningful way,” says John O’Flaherty, executive director of the Community Boating Center in Providence. “They earn bragging rights: ‘I learned how to use a submarine,’ or ‘I picked up trash from the ocean floor.’ Some of our kids don’t realize that Providence is a waterfront city. It’s important that everyone has an experience on Narragansett Bay.”
At Bain Middle School in Cranston, Principal Thomas Barbieri said he believes that learning should take place all year round. Bain offers a summer camp that combines academics with hands-on activities such as rock climbing and farm visits.
“We don’t want our kids staying home playing X-Box all day,” Barbieri says. “We want them to be as sharp when they return to school as when they left.”
The College Crusade of Rhode Island, a college-readiness program, offers an intensive study-skills program for prospective sixth graders. The four-day sessions includes exercises in note-taking, test-taking and time management as well as reading and writing. The courses are part of the Crusade’s admissions program.
“Students are making a huge transition from fifth to sixth grade,” says Crusade spokeswoman Karen Donovan. “The academic requirements and challenges are much greater. We want to make sure our students are ready for middle school.”
Some school districts, including Warwick and Pawtucket, are offering summer school classes online. These districts are trying to tailor instruction to a child’s needs. With Web-based classes, each student can progress at his or her own speed, and a teacher is available to answer questions.
“A lot of time, summer school is about seat time, not proficiency,” says Hersh Cristino, Pawtucket’s technology coordinator. “Here, kids take diagnostic tests at the beginning of summer school and they can concentrate on what they didn’t get during the semester.”
Community Boating Center (CBC) is a non-profit, 501c3 recreational organization offering all members of the community an opportunity to sail. Located in India Point Park, CBC provides outreach, sailing lessons and affordable access to the Providence waterfront. Gifts of cash or property to CBC may be treated as charitable donations for Federal Tax purposes.
For additional information contact:
Community Boating Center
tel: 401.454.SAIL (7245)