The Summer Experience at Somerville Public Schools
Although students of all ages look forward to summer vacation as a time to relax, have fun and explore outdoors with friends and family, learning doesn’t have to stop when the final school bell rings. By engaging in activities like summer reading, museum visits, and interactive camps, students can contribute to their academic and physical progress over the summer and maintain the skills they gained during the school year.
With this is mind, Somerville Public Schools offers a comprehensive array of programs in July and August that make up the Summer Experience. These programs keep students active, curious and engaged between academic years without sacrificing the fun that makes summer so special.
“We have academic, recreational, transition, literacy and language programs,” explains Summer Experience Coordinator Glenda Soto in an episode of “Our Schools, Our City,” the district’s monthly television program. “We’re giving parents many opportunities for their kids to have fun and still [have their needs met] as students.”
Although many of the programs have been held in Somerville for years, the Summer Experience is a new organizational umbrella for the district that ensures a diversity of options for each family and consistency in quality and support between programs. Soto explains, “Last year we had 18 to 21 programs running. This year we’re offering those programs with more coordination and uniformity.”
Academic programs offered include primary and secondary summer school, SPELL (for English Language Learners), and Freedom Connexion, a free national literacy program for kindergarten through 8th grade students rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. In the same episode of “Our Schools, Our City,” Somerville Freedom Connexion Director Justin Hildebrandt explains the program’s focus on multicultural books and extension activities. “We read those books, and then do activities to draw [students] in and reinforce those skills.” The program runs weekdays for six weeks, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and afternoons are filled with activities like yoga, spoken word poetry and Afro-Caribbean drumming.
Hildebrandt notes that, although they’re an academic program focused on preventing the loss of reading grade levels between school years, there’s more to Freedom Connexion than engaging students in reading. “The magic of the summer is developing community at a different pace [than during the school year]. Kids build friendship networks that think learning is cool and that support each other.”
According to Somerville Recreation Director Jill Lathan, building a community and sense of belonging for students is also central to the mission of the recreational summer programs in Somerville, including the Community Schools Adventure Camp and Somerville Recreation Camp. “For us, we like to empower the kids. [To provide] a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and say ‘You are valued in this city. We are all in this together.’”
All Recreation summer programming has “sliding-scale fees,” according to Lathan. “We don’t want any child to miss these opportunities because they’re not able to pay,” she says.
The Somerville Community Schools Adventure Camp, coordinated by Community Schools Director Jennie McGoldrick, is unique in its incorporation of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Music) activities into each day of its 6-week programming. Activities range from stomp dancing to computer programming and educational crafting. “We serve students entering kindergarten through 8th grade, and we also have our counselor-in-training program for our middle grades,” explains McGoldrick. Each week is themed to unify these different areas and make the approach fun for the program’s participants.
Somerville also offers a host of transition programs aimed at preparing students as they move into school for the first time, or from one type of school to another. Director of Early Education Dr. Lisa Kuh oversees Summer Explore Kindergarten Transition Program, a free four-week program aimed at preparing students to enter kindergarten. Dr. Kuh explains that the program has both academic and non-academic goals, from teaching children how to move in groups to raise their hands in class and write their names. “If [the students] can leave us in four weeks knowing how to do [these things], then they will be prepared for school,” she says.
Summer program directors look forward to receiving feedback on how to improve and offer the best experience for students in future summers. “We always want to know what we can do to improve, and that really starts with listening to our parents and students,” says Superintendent Mary Skipper. “That will be something that we do at the end of this summer.”
Cassidy Olsen, Tisch Summer Fellow