Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bain fights the summer slide

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

JUST THE FACTS: Derek Masterson works closely with Nick Burns on mean, median and mode during the math portion of Bain’s summer SMART program.

Tom Barbieri has a dream that one day his school, Hugh B. Bain Middle School, will be open almost all year long.

This year, he began moving steadily towards his goal when Bain remained open for several days during school vacations for academic enrichment and recreational activities.

And this summer, Barbieri took another step forward as the school hosted a four-week program that again combined academics and recreation.

According to a story from Time magazine, a century of studies have found that “the average student loses about a month of progress in math skills each summer, while low-income students slip as many as three months in reading comprehension, compared with middle-income students.” Additionally, “By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.”

Barbieri and his staff are trying to fight what’s been nicknamed the “summer slide,” or summer learning loss, by keeping students at Bain actively engaged all year long.

What started out as a random question about summer reading from a faculty member quickly became a real goal: keeping students academically engaged over the summer in preparation for the coming school year.

“We decided to ‘require’ our students to do something in reading, writing and math over the summer to keep them fresh for September,” Barbieri explained.

A packet of activities in the various subjects was developed, which was aligned with the Rhode Island Grade Level Expectations, and a letter was sent home to parents explaining the available options. The program was nicknamed the SMART program (Student Math and Reading Tasks).

Students could complete the packets on their own at home, or they could take advantage of free academic support at the school each morning over four weeks’ during the summer months.

The packets featured fun and engaging themes and activities.

The math packet was based on a Boston Red Sox theme (Barbieri is a steadfast fan) and had students learning about player statistics, ballparks, merchandise and franchise history.

The reading packet asked students to pick two recommended books from a list, or two other books of interest to the students while still at their level, and complete activities such as creating the front page of a newspaper, writing a movie script, writing a song, or creating a mobile about the book.

In addition, Bain+2, the extended day program housed at Bain during the school year, was offering a four-week Adventure Camp summer program as well.

Therefore, the students could participate in academic enrichment with Bain faculty members in the mornings, and then join the camp for structured learning activities and trips in the afternoons for a nominal fee.

“Why can’t school be different in the summertime? Why can’t we do some academics in the mornings and do fun activities in the afternoons, all around our state?” Barbieri asks.

“These are lifelong things our kids need to know about their own communities,” he said, citing some of the opportunities for afternoon activities that were being scheduled, including surfing lessons, trips to parks, aquariums and the local libraries for teen activities.

Barbieri emphasized that creating the summer SMART program and the accompanying packets was a partnership that involved many people, not only his dedicated faculty and staff but also faculty members from other schools as far away as South Kingstown Middle School. He also cited Brittany Sandbergen, the Bain+2 coordinator, as the backbone to the program, helping him to develop the schedule and much of the school to home communication. Sandbergen estimated that on a daily basis during the four-week program, approximately 70 students participated in the programs.

“And that’s just a start,” Barbieri said. “I’d love to see the whole school here.”

Sandbergen felt that parents were excited and heard them express appreciation for the program.

“One dad was so excited, he said he’d never seen a program like this before,” Sandbergen said.

Barbieri stressed the fact that time is of the essence when working with the students.

“We only have two years with these kids,” he said. “We need to start building relationships early and building leadership capacity, which will hopefully benefit them in the high school years and in our community down the line.”

Sandbergen agreed.

“Because so many incoming seventh graders are enrolled here, they’re getting to see teachers that they may have, see their principal, and the Bain+2 program. It eases their transition,” she said.

Barbieri tries to tour the building each day during the four-week program, popping into classrooms.

“It’s important for these kids to see that I’m here, too,” he said. “No one’s here because of the [hourly wage]; they’re here because they want to give those kids a good shot for September. It all started with one staff member, and this is what we should be doing for kids.”

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