Over the past 18 months, remote learning brought a whole new set of challenges for children and families, particularly those in communities that were disproportionately hit by Covid-19. Enrollments dropped among pre-school and kindergarten students, and full remote learning for much of the year limited traditional in-person school experiences for thousands of young children that are foundational to their future academic success.
“These past two school years have been incredibly challenging for kids and parents,” said Adam Rogers, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Wakefield and Stoneham. “Academically, socially, and emotionally these kids have been through a lot.”
“We have yet to understand the full, long-term impact of COVID-19 on young people’s social-emotional and academic development,” said Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The immediate effects of disrupted learning are already evident.”
Undaunted, government leaders, educators and community-based organizations from across Massachusetts collaborated to use federal relief funding and “step up” summer programming to re-engage children and families and accelerate their readiness for the school year this fall.
“A collaborative approach to summer learning was more important than ever this year, after months of cancelled programs and at-home learning due to the pandemic,” said Randolph Town Manager Brian Howard.
According to a recent analysis by Stanford University and the New York Times, more than one million children in the United States did not attend school in person or online during the last school year, including over 340,000 kindergarten students. Massachusetts saw a drop in preschool enrollment of 31% and a drop in kindergarten enrollment of 12% last year.
Summer Step Up is a new program launched by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to accelerate learning during critical summer months for young children who have had limited access to in-school experiences due to the Covid-19 crisis. More than 2,000 young children entering pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade benefitted from these expanded learning opportunities this summer.
“Research continues to show that a strong foundation in the early years sets students up for long-term academic success, like high school and college completion,” said Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. “Through the Summer Step Up program, we offered the opportunity to make up for lost time prior to starting school in the fall.”
In Stoneham, the Boys & Girls Club partnered with Stoneham Public Schools to support 125 young learners with hands-on instructional practices and routines, STEM, early literacy and math. The program blended the traditional school setting with camp-style activities.
“I had my child attend to give her some more social interaction with peers,” said one Stoneham parent who participated in programming offered through Stoneham Public Schools and the Boys and Girls Club of Wakefield and Stoneham. “In hybrid kindergarten, there was little time for play and social time. We weren’t doing play dates outside of school, so I felt like my daughter missed out socially last year.”
“Pre-pandemic, my son was a bubbly, friendly, outgoing little dude,” says one Stoneham parent. “As we started opening back up, he was fearful and hiding. He was so nervous at the beginning of this program. By the second week, he was skipping into class and was so excited to be there.”
The Baker-Polito Administration partnered with United Way to award more than $7 million in Summer Step Up funding to 30 school districts and 84 non-profit organizations across the Commonwealth.
Here’s a look at a few partnerships we’ve seeded around the region:
For Kids Only Afterschool, a community-based organization, was awarded $729,600 from the Summer Step Up program to support partnerships with five school districts and municipalities: Chelsea, Everett, Winthrop, Revere, and Peabody. Young learners followed a “Journey Around the World” and explored different cultures through the arts, cooking, language, sports, and STEM, and partnered with Project Adventure for outdoor recreational activities. The state funding enabled For Kids Only to expand enrollment to 200 additional children this summer.
“The Summer Step Up Program offers Revere an incredible opportunity to provide for the students of Revere and the surrounding communities,” said Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo. “We are grateful for the partnership on this program – it will be apparent as this generation grows up in the City of Revere with the foundation to learn and grow.”
In Lawrence, $586,400 was awarded to support the efforts Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, YWCA of Northeastern Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley YMCA, and The Community Group to enroll 200 rising Kindergarteners and 1st graders in summer camp programming. Lawrence Public Schools led the community-wide recruitment/enrollment efforts, trained staff in DESE power standards, and worked with community providers to develop a transition form so that district educators receive information about participating children.
“The support from United Way could not have come at a better time,” said Denise Snyder, Assistant Superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools. “At a time when many families continue to struggle economically, providing free access to high-quality summer programming that provides not just an academic boost, but also supports their social and emotional growth, is helping our youngest learners prepare for a strong start in September.”
In Randolph, United Way awarded $142,100 to South Shore Stars, Randolph Public Schools, Old Colony YMCA, and the Town of Randolph’s Community Programs Department to support young learners. Funding for the community partners provided students with a variety of different programs focusing on accelerating learning for literacy, math, and STEAM instruction to arts & crafts, athletics, martial arts and more.
“This funding allowed us to more than double our enrollment in our Summer Discovery learning program and also provide much-needed transportation for students to and from the program,” said Thea Stovell, Superintendent for Randolph Public Schools.
Taunton received $247,400 in Summer Step Up funds to expand and enhance summer programs in collaboration with United Way, Old Colony YMCA, Girls Inc of Taunton, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro South. Specifically, this funding helped to connect Taunton youth entering Pre-K through 2nd grade to rigorous, engaging, and fun community-based summer programming. Taunton Public Schools and community partners worked hard to ensure that as many children as possible have access to this programming by removing the financial and transportation barriers facing families.
“This funding has helped us completely reinvent our summer programming and preschool class structure,” said Roman Davis, Executive Director of the Taunton YMCA. “The United Way has been an amazing partner in supporting our youth development work, and because of that support the Summer Step Up Program will directly impact 90 children and families right here in Taunton.”
“We applaud the Baker-Polito Administration and Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy for investing in the power of wraparound supports to expand summer learning opportunities available at the scale they are needed,” said United Way’s Bob Giannino. “We’re proud to foster coordinated, meaningful partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations to support transitions to in-person learning for our youngest students.”