SALEM — Summer was once a time to head to the fishing hole, the beach or the ballfield. It was a time for anything but reading, writing and arithmetic.
Now, especially in urban school districts like Salem, summer is becoming a time for special programs and enrichment efforts targeting children with special needs, limited English or students from low-income families.
This summer, more than 700 Salem children will attend some form of summer school.
Offerings include a science program at Bentley Elementary School for at-risk students that is run with Salem State University and a literacy academy aboard the tall ship Friendship for largely Spanish-speaking children learning English.
The city has budgeted $325,000 for a pilot program for 240 elementary school children. The target group is children in grades three through five. Although plans are not final, they are looking at programs in the arts and sciences that will be a more hands-on and active learning experience.
While the pilot summer school will focus on children with the greatest needs, Superintendent Stephen Russell said he hopes to reserve about one-third of the seats for any child, with the names likely to be drawn by lottery.
Next year, the Salem schools hope to offer an even-wider range of summer programs.
The summer push is part of an effort by the Salem Public Schools to extend the school year and reduce the “learning loss” that many children experience over the two-month break, a loss that only grows as the years pass. It is also aimed at strengthening a struggling school system under state pressure to improve MCAS scores.
“This movement is coming from research,” Superintendent Stephen Russell said. “Those groups of highest-need kids have been found to suffer the most from summer learning loss.”
Studies show, for example, that children from low-income families who are not in a structured learning environment over the summer can lose two months of reading and math skills, officials said.