Portland schools expand summer learning opportunities

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PORTLAND — A learning program billed as summer school meets summer camp is being offered to middle school students.

Melea Nalli, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for the Portland Public Schools, said because some students need more time to reach their learning goals, a summer opportunity like this one allows more students the chance to reach their potential.

“Research shows that youth who spend their summers without quality learning opportunities risk experiencing the summer slide, in which they lose ground in subjects such as math and reading,” the School Department said in a press release.

That’s why the Portland schools wanted to collaborate with the Gulf of Maine Research Center, the Telling Room and SailMaine to “co-design learning experiences that would help students achieve (learning standards) and have a fun and engaging experience (that’s) more like camp,” Nalli said.

The idea is to provide “a two-week experiential summer camp that also targets academic skills,” especially in terms of literacy and science, math engineering and technology, or STEM.

Nalli said there would be two sessions. The first week is focused on the humanities and runs July 16-20. The second week is focused on STEM and runs July 23-27.

She said a nearly $25,000 gift from Unum has allowed the School Department to “implement our full vision for this program, especially the aspects that truly make this a special and unique experience.”

“Unum is pleased to support (the new) Middle School Summer Program,” said Cary Olson Cartwright, the company’s assistant vice president of corporate social responsibility. “We value experiences that enhance education and enrich students lives (and) we believe this innovative program does just that.”

Overall, the summer program gives middle-schoolers “an opportunity to connect with caring adults, familiarizes them with careers in our community, inspires them to learn about interesting topics, and supports them on their path towards achieving graduation standards,” the School Department press release said.

The program is structured to ensure that students who complete the two-week immersion “improve their proficiency on targeted standards and are more prepared to meet the expectations of challenging grade-level standards when they return to school in the fall,” the release added.

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said it’s important for students to have multiple pathways for achieving academic milestones and “Unum’s partnership will ensure that more of our students will be able to achieve academic goals while enjoying the amazing institutions that make Portland a great place to learn.”

Nalli said the new Middle School Summer Program ties directly into the school district’s goals, including equity.

With the equity goal, she said, the desire is to give “all students access to these types of engaging summer experiences” and to “extend the time for learning that some students need in order to meet the same high bar that we hold for all students.”

The National Center for Time & Learning says providing extended learning opportunities is especially important to students from low-income families.

“Across the United States, children, especially from low-income communities, lack the crucial resources and opportunities – inside and outside of schools – they need if they are to reach their potential,” the center’s website states. But, “when done well, expanding learning time raises achievement (and) enriches education.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.