LEWISTON — After using flashlights inside a tent at Longley Elementary School on Tuesday, Anita Yonis, 7, and Abdourahman Issa, 8, wrote in their journals about the shadows they created.

Nearby were two other tents, two teachers, 11 other second-graders and a fan softly humming.

Anita and Abdourahman are among 200 Longley students attending a six-week summer school program. Their classroom theme is Camp Read-A-Lot.

Saying too many students lose too much of what they learned during the school year, Lewiston education officials have made summer programs a priority.

So has the John T. Gorham Foundation, which awarded grants to summer school programs in Lewiston, Farmington, Oxford, Portland and Biddeford.

After touring Longley classrooms Tuesday, foundation CEO Tony Cipollone said his organization wants to help improve learning for young, disadvantaged students, promote programs that achieve results and use best practices.

The foundation offered Longley $100,000 in April for grades K-2, but the school only accepted $70,000 because that’s what the school could spend wisely, said Chief Academic Officer Susan Martin. The program’s total cost for grades K-6 is $150,000, according to the Lewiston School Department.

Longley and the other four schools were chosen after the foundation looked at disadvantaged student populations, low scores and what the schools were doing with summer programs.

Unless students have enriching activities, 10 weeks off in the summer interrupts their educations. National statistics show middle-income students lose about one month of learning, while students from poor families lose even more.

“If you put low-income kids and more advantaged kids into good-quality schools, good teaching and solid curriculum, they all make advances over the school year,” Cipollone said. “But during the summer, low-income kids may not have the same opportunities to read, go on trips, get enrichment. They actually lose ground.” National statistics show they lose two to three months, “and that loss is cumulative over time,” he said.

Lewiston’s scores confirm many students lose two months of learning during the summer, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Research shows good summer programs should run at least half a day, five days a week for five to six weeks, Cipollone said. They also should include parents and community organizations, offer professional development for teachers and enrichment activities for students.

Lewiston’s program “met just about every piece of that criteria,” Cipollone said.

Longley teacher Cheri Hill said her second-graders get instruction in reading, math, science and social skills in class and on field trips. This summer, they are to visit an Oxford campground to learn what camping is like, visit Lewiston’s Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary and hike Bradbury Mountain, things they hadn’t done. Their favorite part at Bradbury was discovering wild blueberries, she said.

The grant is allowing Longley to offer a program four hours a day, five days a week from June 24-Aug. 3. This year, 200 of the 324 Longley students are attending.

Citywide, some 20 percent (about 1,000) of Lewiston students are enrolled in summer programs, up from 600 students last year and 300 the year before. Webster wants to continue to increase that number.

It’s critical that Lewiston offer summer programs, “and do it on an expanding basis,” he said. “Schools in general need to take a year-round responsibility for students.”

Many educators think their students “did pretty good,” progressing from the fall to the spring. But not enough teachers consider that students started in the fall behind where they were in June, Webster said.

Employment in the Lewiston School Department will become “a year-round thing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t take a vacation,” but teachers cannot get to June 15 and assume they have two and a half months off, he said.

Summer programs are a more effective and more affordable way of improving education and combating Maine’s short school year of 175 days, Webster said.

Longley Principal Linda St. Andre said last year’s summer program, which was smaller and offered only 90-minute days, made a difference.

“Our goal was to halt the summer regression, to keep them where they were when they left us in the spring,” she said. “We met our goals. It was clear in the fall testing: Students who attended had not regressed.”

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