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Summer Programs In Hartford Help Put Brakes On Kids' Academic Backsliding


June 20, 2012

HARTFORD It's called the "summer slide" the learning lost by students during the academically idle months of summer.

In Hartford, the city's school district and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving have compiled a directory of nearly 70 summer enrichment programs and summer camps to help keep kids from backsliding many of them offered in conjunction with community organizations. Some programs combine traditional summer school with fun activities that reinforce and enrich learning experiences.

"Research says inner-city kids, especially, lose a lot during that time," said Clara Ruffin, who runs the Hartford Friendship Kids Camp, which focuses on improving the reading abilities of its 5- to 12-year-old campers during a five-week session. Ruffin and her husband, Richard Ruffin, are retired educators who co-founded the camp, where in addition to traditional teaching methods, kids spend some time working independently on computer programs. The camp quizzes children at the beginning and end of the session to map their progress.

The camp also offers classes in drama, music, dance, character education and new this year fashion design.

"If you just want your kids to be babysat, our camp is not the place," Ruffin said.

This year 5,291 Hartford students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be required to attend summer school almost 2, 000 more students than last year.

Some summer enrichment programs are offered in conjunction with a morning of summer school. The school district's summer school for students in grades K-7, called Early Start, runs until about 12:30 in the afternoon.

Then programs such as the ConnectiKids Summer Program, held at West Middle Elementary School for kids age 8 to 13, provide activities that are something to look forward to after a morning of classes.

John Prescod, executive director of ConnectiKids, called the afternoon's theme-based activities the "incentive" that motivates children to attend Early Start. This year's theme is "Around the World," and students will learn about geography and culture, and take part in cultural cooking classes.

ConnectiKids students also participate in boating, rowing, fishing and a ropes course on the Connecticut River through Riverfront Recapture an experience Prescod said teaches the students about "teamwork and personal goal-setting."

"It's a reinforcer of them getting the academic assistance they need," Prescod said. "The program is something fun, empowering and enriching for them to look foward to."

Beyond that, he said, it also "exposes children to information, people, environments, cultures and situations that they are unlikely to experience in their day-to-day lives, breaking down racial barriers and stereotypes along the way."

The program, which is free and enrolls 100 to 110 students per summer, gives priority to Early Start students but will fill any vacancies with kids who aren't in summer school. Prescod said one advantage of the program is that parents don't have to leave work in the middle of the day to transport their children from summer school to a day camp or daycare service.

Students who aren't required to attend summer school also have options for continued learning during the summer.

Watkinson School's SPHERE program, for example, combines training in math, reading, social studies, science and computers with arts and crafts, sports and theater activities. SPHERE gathers input from participants' teachers prior to the start of the five-week program to target students' academic trouble areas, and offers individualized attention.

SPHERE, which still has some vacancies for this summer, also hosts several guest speakers each year. Program director Elizabeth Cameron said this year a representative from the Connecticut Science Center will speak to students.

Hartford Friendship Kids Camp also hosts guest speakers, usually parents and active community members, and campers take field trips as often as once a week.

The campers put on a performance at the end of the session featuring dances, plays, and songs they've learned. The performance is a fundraiser that helps the Ruffins hold down fees. They also apply for grants and accept donations.

"At an age where camps are very expensive, we try to keep our fees family-friendly," Clara Ruffin said. While the camp charges $50 per week, she said the actual cost of running the camp per child comes to about $150 a week.

A RAND Corp. study last year found that students who attend summer enrichment programs show improved academic performance compared to peers who do not. The study, titled "Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boosts Children's Learning," also found that the academic achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students widens over the summer, as lower-income students often cannot afford to attend enrichment programs.

This year, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving provided nearly $800,000 to Hartford-area camps and enrichment programs to support reduced fees, and most of the programs offer "camperships" for qualifying families. Watkinson School's SPHERE program gives parents the option of paying the camp's $50 fee over the course of the five-week program. And the majority of the programs provide at least one daily meal.

The Hartford Public Schools Summer Program directory is available in both English and Spanish at http://www.hfpg.org/summer, and at Hartford public schools, local libraries and community centers.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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