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More children should take advantage of revamped summer school offerings

Kids may see the Buffalo School District’s revamped “summer camp” as a way to meet up with friends, play some games and generally have a good time. Parents may see it as a way to keep their kids occupied during hot, hazy days.

Whatever the motivation, summer school should to be on the agenda for Buffalo’s elementary school students. The students might be pleasantly surprised at what they find.

Summer School 2016 has been repackaged to include reading and math, arts, culture and recreation, rebranded as a “camp” and delivered throughout 57 sites (not schools, but churches and community centers) throughout the city, so far to nearly 1,800 elementary students.

There should be more students enrolled. In fact, there should be a waiting list of students hoping to get in. School officials have the task of attracting more students, more families to what amounts to a creative and enriching summer program.

Some of that reluctance on the part of parents is a likely due to past failures by the district.

They remember 2012, when the district canceled elementary summer school and substituted a third-rate imitation in the form of worksheet packets sent home for students to work on over the summer. There is more to learning than coloring inside the lines. Saving money trumped keeping the kids engaged over the summer to reinforce the lessons during the school year.

Kids didn’t fare much better the following year despite then-Superintendent Pamela Brown’s aggressive push for elementary summer school. While more than 9,571 children registered that year, fewer than half showed up the first week and even fewer stuck with it. Then things got worse in 2014, when the district declared it could not afford to pay for summer school.

Say Yes to Education came to the rescue. The non-profit that offers college scholarships to city high school graduates provided a last-minute funding commitment of $1.2 million. About 6,400 students registered, but once again attendance dropped, this time below 4,000 by the fourth week of the program.

The district was willing to drop summer school for elementary students in 2015. Say Yes intervened again with a half-million dollars and an agreement that saved summer learning, this time with a multiyear contract. The district would take on a larger share of the costs each year.

It is money well spent, as Superintendent Kriner Cash understands: “It’s costly but it’s important. We know summer learning loss is a real phenomenon for our children, particularly those in poverty.”

The morning-long camps run Monday through Friday until Aug. 12. They start with breakfast and end with lunch. More parents should enroll their children.