Lori Bobinsky, a lead teacher and administrator at Reiche Elementary School in Portland, sits in a classroom on Wednesday. Bobinsky helps run the school’s summer programming. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Every day at Reiche Elementary School’s summer program starts with a community gathering. Students, teachers and administrators sing a song or dance together. Summer program class sizes are small, and school days are abbreviated. Teachers have less on their plates.

“One thing we’ve really worked on doing is having a kind of joyous, camp-like feeling even though the focus is academic,” said Lori Bobinsky, a lead teacher and administrator at Reiche.

Bobinsky said she always tells teachers who are considering working during the summer that they will be surprised to see how happy the kids are.

“There is a real sense of joy around learning, and I love seeing that,” she said.

During the school year, most kids in the United States follow roughly the same schedule: They go to class, learn roughly the same material, have recess, eat lunch with their peers, take tests, work on projects and do homework.

But during the summer, that changes. Kids’ experiences and opportunities vary depending on their families’ economic status, where they go to school, and what summer opportunities their school districts and communities offer. Kids from wealthier families often have access to summer opportunities that help them grow academically, socially and emotionally, while those from economically disadvantaged families are more likely to go without enriching programs, leading them to fall behind their more advantaged peers.


That’s where school districts step in.

Many districts in Maine and around the country offer summer programs to keep kids engaged in learning, help them catch up where they fell behind during the school year, build connections in the community and get ready for the upcoming school year.

Last summer, 78% of public schools in the U.S. provided academic-focused summer programs to around 15% of the nation’s students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This summer, the Portland Public School District, the state’s largest, hopes to serve 1,150 of its 6,500 students in its largely academic-focused summer programs, according to Deputy Superintendent Aaron Townsend.

The district is offering summer special education, high school credit recovery programs, tutoring, middle to high school transition support, and programs for students who are new to the area to teach them how to take the bus and navigate the city and their schools.

Other school districts in the area are providing students with similar opportunities.


The Bonny Eagle School District plans to provide summer school for around 100 students entering kindergarten, first and second grade who it believes could use extra support, said Superintendent Clay Gleason.

The South Portland School District plans to provide programs for elementary and high school students who are at risk of or already are falling behind, such as multilingual students in sixth through 12th grade who have had limited exposure to formal education or could otherwise benefit from additional schooling and more summer camp programs including outdoor adventure, hiking and storytelling opportunities.

“Educators do try to make it feel special and different,” said Assistant Superintendent Johanna Prince. “It has a different flavor than school year learning.”

Prince said she recognizes that for many students, summer is a time to recharge. But it can also be a time for kids to continue learning, and that continued learning can help prepare kids to continue their education and enter the workforce.

This, she said, is most important for disadvantaged students, students who are disengaged or those who often miss school.

“The more we can create a positive experience for kids and families, the better,” said Prince. “Kids are capable if they feel connected and ready to learn.”


Education researcher Catherine Augustine, who recently completed a nine-year study of summer learning programs around the country, said it’s clear that summer programs benefit students in the short and long term.

In at least the near term, students who participate in summer school gain social-emotional learning skills, said Augustine. In the short and long term, they become stronger in math and English.

Due to the more intimate environment of summer school, students also tend to build stronger connections with teachers and their peers, she said. And students who participate in summer programming multiple summers in a row tend to reap more positive rewards than those who participate for just one summer, Augustine said.

School leaders say that summer school, with its smaller class sizes and emphasis on offering focused and additional support to students, can also benefit students who need to build confidence and skills.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story