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In Manchester, Summer Learning Program Sees Growth In Second Year


The weather’s heating up, which means New Hampshire schools are letting out for the summer.

But for many students, especially those from low-income families, those two months away from the classroom can often lead to regression when they return in the fall.

A program in Manchester aimed at curbing that summer slide is expanding this year, with more than 100 middle school students taking part at no cost to families.

Forrest Ransdell is principal at the Middle School at Parkside in Manchester, where the Power Scholars Academy kicks off next week. He joined NHPR's Morning Edition.

This is the second year the city has run this program, and it’s expanding this summer with up to 120 students enrolled, up from 51 last year. How big of a need is there in Manchester for something like this?

There’s a large need everywhere for something like this. It’s not just Manchester or relegated to the cities. It is relegated to the fact that students lose a certain amount of progress over the course of any break, and certainly the two-month summer break is the longest one students deal with. In Manchester, we have a greater proportion of kids who do not have the options available to them to continue their summer learning or the ability to maintain their learning through different experiences, so this becomes very important in our community for kids.

Can you tell me about the academy? What will students be doing over those six weeks?

The program is run by the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club here in Manchester. The school district is partnering with them to host as a location as the program grew this year. So the kudos and the congratulations really do need to go to the teen center staff at the Y and the staff at the Boys & Girls Club for getting this program off the ground. We’re just happy to be a partner with them and to be able to help expand that program.

Over the course of the six weeks, there are four days of a combination of academics and camp activities. So there’s an hour and a half each day of literacy instruction and an hour and a half a day of math instruction. The remainder of the day is made up of summer camp and recreational activities, which are also something many of our students don’t have access to in the normal process of their lives. The Friday part of the program is a field trip to different venues and areas around the state and the region. That is for the students who have made their progress during the week. So again, these are experiences many of our students would not have the ability to access.

Do you specifically target low-income students to take part?

We do not specifically target low-income students. It happens that Manchester has an identifiable population of low-income students, but we target students who would benefit from summer engagement or families who wish their kids to be engaged in the summer. There’s no academic threshold for entry, although schools are recommending certain kids who need some academic support as part of the cohort.

What kind of results did you see for students who took part last summer?

Last summer, over the six weeks students were making two to three months of gains in their learning. So they were not just maintaining their progress from the school year, they were actually beginning to close gaps if they exist and progress beyond their status when they entered the program.

Are there other ways the school tries to keep students engaged over the summer break?

There are. This year in Manchester, the district undertook a ‘Booked For Summer’ program, where at all three levels students were engaged with opportunities and activities, things they could do here in the city and the region, all tied into literacy and the importance of reading as a pastime and activity.

More districts seem to be looking at year-round options, to break up that long summer break. Has there ever been any conversation about changes to the calendar?

I’m certain there have been conversations, certainly informal conversations taking place, but I’m not aware of any formal consideration of that.

Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
Jessica previously worked as a producer for NHPR's The Exchange, wedging in as many discussions as possible about the environment, wildlife, and the outdoors. You can hear her occasionally as a substitute host on NHPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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