summer learning collaborative

This is What the New Summer Learning Really Looks Like

The Waltham Boys & Girls Club is turning traditional summer programming into a hands-on summer learning and literacy experience. And the kids LOVE it.

“Who wants to play Roll-a-Word?”

You would have thought “Roll-a-Word” was the secret code for ice cream based on the way the kids in the Waltham Boys & Girls Club jumped out of their seats to play. But this Boggle-like word game is just one of many ways the Summer Learning Collaborative is making literacy fun for students.

Roll-a-Word, similar to the game of Boggle, has kids roll small cubes with letters on them and they have to make a word out of the five letters that turn up. But in a fun twist, they can either make real words or “nonsense” words. If it’s a nonsense word, they just have to acknowledge that it isn’t a real word, share how they would pronounce it, and decide what it means. (Adults, this doesn’t mean you can start counting your nonsense words in Scrabble!)

In doing this, the children practice phonetics and spelling, but also get to stretch their imaginations and not feel badly if they can’t form a “real” word.

According to Sarah Hebert, who runs the literacy program at the Boys & Girls Club, the kids love it. And they get as much excitement out of creating real words as they do making up the “nonsense” definitions.

When 7 year old Anya came up with the nonsense word “nufcl”, she giggled, explaining that it was “when you’ve had enough of something”. But she was even more excited when she was able to make the word “cups” using four letters, when most of the real words she’s made so far were just three letters.


This is just one of the many literacy games the children play at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club summer program, which is now entering its third year with United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative.

Whether it’s taking games the children already know and love and reinventing them with a literacy component; doing science experiments outside where they have to describe observations with adjectives; or planning an “imagination vacation” where the kids pretend to go on a trip, reading directions and looking at maps; they are constantly learning throughout all aspects of their summer day.

“We’re able to take the curriculum and reinvent it to fit the kids’ needs,” said Sarah Hebert, the after school program director. “Most of the time they don’t even realize what they’re doing is literacy – they’re just having fun.”

Anya, who will be going into the second grade next year, will be the first to tell you how much she loves reading. When asked about her favorite book, she immediately pulled out the Dr. Seuss book “Put Me In the Zoo”, a story about a leopard who CAN change his spots.

“I like it because it rhymes and it’s funny,” Anya said, giggling as she read aloud.


summer learning collaborativeIt’s no surprise that when you put kids in a supportive and fun learning environment they will thrive, and the Waltham Boys & Girls Club has been one of United Way’s best Summer Learning Collaborative partners in making this happen.

“Sarah has really embraced the Summer Learning Collaborative model, infusing literacy throughout so many activities and truly making reading fun for kids,” says Sunindiya Bhalla, Senior Director of Community Impact at United Way.

The results speak for themselves.

Last year, one-third of children participating in United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative were reading below grade level when they started the program. An evaluation of the 2016 program revealed that by the end of the summer, 64% of students had either maintained or increased their reading skills. This year, over 3,000 elementary school children will have that opportunity at 24 program sites in 14 communities throughout our region.

“It’s been amazing,” said Erica Young, Executive Director of the Waltham Boys & Girls Club. “The Summer Learning Collaborative program is very impactful, with great curriculum, support and training for our staff. And as our literacy champion, Sarah has taken it to a whole other level with her creativity and passion.”

For Sarah, as well as the kids, it’s all part of the summer fun. “Literacy and youth advocacy are my passions, so getting to do this every day through the summer learning program is a dream come true,” she said.

It’s a dream come true for the children too. Even if they don’t know it yet.