15 Sep

2021 Summer Learning Initiative Recap

A year after COVID-19 turned summer learning programs upside down, youth in five communities reveled in a full return to engaging, in-person activities this summer — with recommended safety guidelines in place and the support of dozens of partners.

A Newport student shows off a monarch butterfly, which he kept track of as it transformed from a caterpillar to an adult. Learning about life cycles was one of many activities students participated in as part of Reading Reaps Rewards, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County's Summer Learning Initiative program. Photo by Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County.

These programs were part of United Way of Rhode Island’s Summer Learning Initiative (SLI) which provides high-quality, high-impact opportunities for students to explore new topics and ideas all summer. SLI is funded by the donations of thousands of Rhode Islanders to the Community Impact Fund with additional support from Hasbro and Women United.

A Newport student holds two magnifying glasses over her eyes. Photo by Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County.

“It was awesome to see these kids make up for lost time being around their peers and get excited about the different projects they took on,” said Kevin Lamoureux, one of the educational coordinators for the program run out of Hamlet Middle School.

Three Newport students lean in to take a closer look at lima bean sprouts. The students created mini-greenhouses as part of a lesson about plant life and pollination. Photo by Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County.

Throughout the state, students who ranged from rising first graders to high school juniors spent six weeks sharpening their social-emotional skills, tackling service projects to address community needs, and preparing their minds for a return to the classroom.

It was exactly what kids needed after 14+ months of academic uncertainty and distance learning. In the face of the trauma of a global pandemic, friends reconnected with friends and kids were able to be kids — with academics seamlessly embedded into their daily activities.

Jereck, a Newport student, models the shaka, a popular surfers' hand gesture meaning "hang loose." This year, Newport students learned how to surf at Second Beach with the help of program partner Gnome Surf.

In Cranston, elementary-age students couldn’t wait to see what surprises their program partners had in store, like Roger Williams Park Zoo, Ocean State Kidz Club, and Global Science Envirotech to name a few. Science lessons in the form of weekly trips to Stillhouse Cove were highly anticipated, with kids learning about water pollution and wildlife protection. They’d regularly test the water for its pH and oxygen levels, explore for bugs and crabs, and play “Bird Bingo.” And on the program’s final day, students hosted a Science Showcase to highlight their efforts.

A Newport student holds a live crab during an exploration activity with Save the Bay. Students learned proper handling techniques for interacting with different specimens. Photo by Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County.

Nearby, at Park View Middle School, high school students spent time this summer building remote operated vehicles using 3-D printed materials and testing circuit experiments.

“You’ve got to be really precise with what you do,” said Andy Wu, an incoming sophomore at Cranston East High School, when he spoke to the Cranston Herald during the paper’s visit to the program in August.

Andy Wu, a student at Cranston East, showcases an experiment highlighting the “Peltier effect” through several types of circuits. Wu said his work in the summer STEM Advantage program is part of his continued efforts to refine his scientific skills. Photo by Daniel Kittredge via the Cranston Herald.

STEM-focused lessons and projects weren’t the only hits among this summer’s participants. In fact, a major component of the SLI — service learning projects driven by youth choice — stole the show in each community (Central Falls, Cranston, Newport, Westerly, and Woonsocket) where it had a presence.

Marlena Kong, a junior at Cranston East, shares a bulletin board presentation outlining the STEM Advantage students’ work to weed and clean up the parking lot at Park View as part of their summer program. Photo by Daniel Kittredge via the Cranston Herald.

There were students who made pet toys to donate to their local animal shelter, and kids who volunteered to paint the picnic tables at their school in hopes it would encourage people to use them more. Others, like a group in Westerly, helped expand a community garden. And in Newport, a kid-run lemonade stand doubled as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit that brings birthday parties to hospitalized children.

A Woonsocket student prepares a kite she made for a test run. Kite making is one of many activities students participated in as part of the Woonsocket Summer Learning Initiative program.

“The model of this program, which is built around funding a lead partner who engages other community organizations and benefits from extensive support from United Way, has proven successful on so many levels,” said Marlene Guay, our program officer for child development and education initiatives. “What we need to do next is ensure every single Rhode Island student who wants to participate has that access.”