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Buffalo Public Schools reach summer camp agreement

Following weeks of uncertainty about whether the Buffalo Public Schools would offer some form of summer school, students who need extra help will get it.

The district has come to an agreement with Say Yes Buffalo and the city to ensure that students have access to a summer day camp program for the next seven years. The program will include time both for academics and enrichment activities.

District leaders had previously said they would not offer summer school this year, citing budget constraints and poor attendance last summer. That prompted concerns about how students would spend their summer months, a time many regress academically because they are not in the classroom.

The new program will be a partnership among the district, the city, Say Yes, and various community and religious organizations that will run the day camps.

“This agreement provides a sustainable source of funding for (pre-K through sixth-grade) summer programs, which will allow more students to stem summer learning losses through access to quality academics, infused with art, music, science, structured recreation and more,” Say Yes Executive Director David P. Rust said in a statement.

“This agreement also capitalizes on the strengths of our city’s community-based organizations, who have a long track record of delivering strong programs serving Buffalo’s young people.”

Say Yes is paying $500,000 for this year’s effort, which will go to the community organizations running the programs. Over time the financial responsibility will gradually shift to the district. Both the city and the school district are contributing staff time for training and assistance with the program’s implementation. Teachers may apply to work at any of the sites, which is customary with after-school and past programs operated by community organizations.

“That’s progress,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “We raised this issue back in January, so I’m glad to see they came up with something.”

Last year, summer school enrollment started at 6,482 students but dropped to 3,617 by the end of the program four weeks later. That drop in enrollment, coupled with poor attendance and the fact some students fared worse academically after going through the program, prompted district officials to propose canceling summer school this year and redirecting the funding to more effective interventions.

Some school and community leaders, however, contended that the poor results stemmed from logistical problems – such as transportation and the location of the programs – that can be worked out before implementing this year’s program.

Community groups will have to apply to run the programs, which will operate at schools citywide. The groups must agree to have staff undergo training and complete the Erie County Health Department’s summer camp permit process.

The district will provide training and academic resources to those organizations so they can incorporate instructional activities that focus on math and reading. Students will also participate in activities that promote health, recreation and civic engagement.

Students will receive books to participate in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s Summer Reading Challenge, which encourages students in kindergarten through eighth grade to read seven books and write a brief summary about them. Since 2006, nearly 10,000 city students have completed the challenge, reading more than 70,000 books.

The district will offer its summer remedial programs for high school students as usual.

The seven-year agreement comes after several years during which the district struggled to offer quality programs.

Three years ago, the district cut funding for summer school, sparking a controversy when it opted instead to send worksheets home. Last year, when the program found itself again in jeopardy, Say Yes stepped in with $660,000 to help pay for it. There will be some savings this year because the sites will largely serve students in the neighborhood, cutting down on transportation costs.

Research has consistently shown that many students lose academic ground over the summer, and that trend is especially acute among students from low-income backgrounds who may not have access to educational or enrichment activities.

One study suggests that the summer learning loss can contribute to low-income students falling three years behind academically by the time they reach fifth grade.

Along with the academic benefits, some researchers suggest that summer programs offering enrichment activities along with instruction provide opportunities that students might not otherwise have.

The Wallace Foundation studied the impact of summer programs in high-poverty urban school systems. Early results show that such programs do not appear to affect reading results, but in math, summer school students marginally outperformed classmates who did not attend.