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Incoming BPS superintendent touts summer learning

Record number of students enrolled in summer programs

Anna Lamb
Incoming BPS superintendent touts summer learning
Incoming Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper and Mayor Michelle Wu address reporters at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

As incoming Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper prepares to take on her new role in September, she made one of her first public appearances alongside Mayor Michelle Wu, touting the success of the city’s “5th Quarter” summer learning initiative.

The pair joined students, youth employees and other city officials on Aug. 3 at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan, where one of many summer school programs is being held as part of the push to cut down on summer learning loss.

Dubbed “the 5th Quarter of Learning,” more than 240 programs aimed at bridging the gap between school years have been hosted this year in a partnership between the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the nonprofit Boston After School & Beyond and community-based organizations.

At the Mildred Avenue School, one of the programs serving students is the nonprofit Harlem Lacrosse camp that pairs sports training with classroom time. Students do lacrosse drills in the morning and learning exercises in the afternoon.

“The partnership here between the Mildred School and Harlem Lacrosse is just one example of what’s possible when we invest in creative, enriching, personalized learning experiences for our young people,” Mayor Wu said Wednesday. “Programs like these, blending enrichment and education, are proven to boost student outcomes throughout the year and throughout our young peoples’ lives.”

According to city officials, across all the programming, nearly 17,500 students are being served — up 15% from summer 2021, and a record for the number of programs and young people participating. The mayor touted a 70-fold increase since 2010.

Wu and her team point to BPS’s investment of $4 million as helping to drive this increase.

“Funding a diverse network of community-based organizations has been an effective way to help young people rebound from the pandemic,” said Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond. “We need to work together to ensure that young people have access to these programs in the future.”

Wu and Skipper joined students and staff on a tour of the program’s offerings, and students provided feedback on their experience thus far.

“We heard … overall, such excitement for what this means for our communities when young people are lifted up as the leaders that we need to be investing in right now,” the mayor said.

All those present at Wednesday’s event lauded summer learning as a tangible, evidence-based strategy for closing opportunity and achievement gaps. Wu’s team points to a national longitudinal study by RAND, which included Boston, that showed that high-attending students of summer programs outperform their peers in math, English language arts, and social and emotional skills. Skipper noted the sheer engagement this summer alone — 87% attendance across all the five-week summer programs — as proof of its success.

“The incredible array of enrichment opportunities offered during the summer helps engage our young people each day,” said Skipper. “In addition to developing new skills and making new friends, our students are ready for the next school year.”

The group that gathered last Wednesday also used the opportunity to highlight one of the mayor’s campaign initiatives, which has been to boost youth employment across the city. Multiple speakers highlighted a statistic from Afterschool Alliance that shows young people spend 80% of their waking hours outside of school — a critical time to be harnessed in productive ways.

Rashad Cope, the city’s director of the Department of Youth Engagement & Employment, joined the speakers outside the Mildred Avenue School to applaud the job creation that comes alongside educational opportunities.

“The summer job opportunities here at BCYF, Mildred Ave and Harlem Lacrosse, they provide strong foundational skills that are essential to a young person’s development and preparation for post-secondary education and future employment opportunities,” Cope said.

In addition to topical questions about the summer programs, reporters asked Skipper about her new position, which she is set to start officially on Sept. 26. She currently is still operating as the Superintendent of Somerville schools — a role she has held for the past seven years.

Skipper addressed her priorities as superintendent, which she said are reestablishing trust with families and communities, creating strong communication by improving BPS systems and structures, improving social-emotional health of students after the pandemic, and improving access for all students, including English language learners, special education students and Black and brown students.

“What I see is that there is a lot of good talented people in the BPS who are working hard, and I think our role in the central office and in our community is to support our school leaders and our schools that are closest to our students,” she said.

Skipper also addressed the recent announcement that MBTA Orange Line service will be shuttered for the first month of school.

“Our plan, always, has been to ensure that there’s reliable transportation for our students,” she said.

That plan is still evolving.