LEWISTON — School buses rolled again in Lewiston on Tuesday — never mind the fact that it was the day after the Fourth of July, with temps hovering in the low 80s. 

School’s back in session — sort of — for about 20 percent of the city’s students.

Some 1,100 students, nearly one-fifth of the total of 5,229, are attending summer learning programs that began Tuesday and end Aug. 4.

These programs are not like traditional summer schools in which students make up credit.

Montello Elementary School teacher Vicky Cloutier led first-graders Tuesday as they reflected on taking turns, following rules, compromising and working in groups.

In other classrooms, students worked on science projects.

At Longley, McMahon and Montello elementary schools and Lewiston Middle School, “summer camps” offer half-days, a different style of hands-on learning, with weekly field trips that allow pupils to experience what they’ve studied that week.

The programs are funded by a combination of grants and money in the School Department budget. 

There is no such funding to allow Farwell and Geiger elementary schools to hold similar summer camps. Farwell does, however, have a summer program for special education students, and Geiger’s library will be open for a reading drop-in program.

Lewiston High School is holding traditional summer school, allowing students to make up classes. There are 350 students enrolled. The difference is, with a performance-based learning system, students don’t have to repeat entire courses — they only take what they’ve missed.

Some will be there for five weeks, intending to graduate in August; others will only attend a few days.

The elementary programs are offered to combat summer learning loss, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

“We know from national research and our internal data that students will lose an equivalent of three months of instruction if they don’t have an educational experience in the summer,” he said. 

The three-month learning loss is especially problematic for poorer students from households where no English is spoken or no reading or math occurs, even informally.

National research shows children from middle-income families often lose a month’s worth of learning if not exposed to school skills that happen through enrichment programs or summer camps.

Whether the learning loss is one or three months, without intervention students fall more behind every year, said Steve Maroon, who oversees the summer programs at Montello.

For some students, the summer learning loss means “it can be as late as November before a student is back to where they were the previous June,” Webster said. 

Webster said he wishes Lewiston could offer summer programs at every school.

“One of the challenges is, as older grants expire, we’ve had to move it to the budget or find other funding,” Webster said. “While wonderful, the programs are not as robust as we need. Still, we have one of the most robust summer programs in Maine.”

At Montello, 257 students have signed up for summer camps, Maroon said.

“We have 24 classrooms, not including a newcomer classroom for kids (who have) just arrived (in) the country” or special ed classes.

Half of Montello students are taking STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes. These students will:

• Observe cloud formation and report the data to NASA;

• Help researchers collect data on monarch butterfly and milkweed habitat; and

• Collect data about ladybugs, which, like butterflies, are disappearing.

They’ll also design bridges and parachutes and study Androscoggin River water quality.

Other students are taking emotional literacy classes, each grade learning about different values:

• Grade one will probe fairness, honesty and trustworthiness;

• Grade three will explore what responsibility means; and

• Grade six will learn about leadership and citizenship.

Each class includes a weekly day trip to a museum, park or farm.

All of the summer programs have waiting lists, said English Language Learner Director Hilary Barber.


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