By Sarah Summers, AfterZone Scholars Coordinator
Recruitment for PASA and Providence’s joint summer STEM program is underway! Enrollment brochures will be hitting the schools in March so families have time to plan for a month-long, hands-on learning experience that also improves STEM skills and knowledge. If you are a parent who has given us your contact information, expect to receive more summer information in the weeks ahead.
Summer Scholars is PASA’s largest STEM initiative, where middle school youth blend hands-on, experiential learning with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The camp gets youth out into the field throughout the month of July and is co-taught by a school teacher and informal STEM educator who is an expert in the field. The full-day format of the summer camp allows for an intensive learning experience; educators and youth are able to go in depth with scientific inquiry, and have sufficient time to discover STEM concepts in authentic and youth-led ways, while also having fun exploring and enjoying the outdoors.
Summer provides fertile grounds for collaboration among PASA, teachers, and informal educators. In the spring, PASA provides 30 hours of professional development funded by the Noyce Foundation for summer educators, creating a collaborative environment that continues during the summer camp. Last summer, we worked closely with 32 certified teachers, primarily but not exclusively Providence math and science teachers. This partnership with formal educators allows us to fuse together formal, standards-based methods of teaching with the informal, experiential teaching methods of the educators from community organizations. As a result, campers receive a rich and dynamic experience, and both formal and informal educators take new perspectives about teaching back to their classrooms and organizations for the rest of the year.
Summer is also the perfect time to learn in the many rich learning environments that our state offers. Summer camp cohorts balance classroom time with field trips throughout the community; each cohort takes two trips to an offsite location each week. Because of this balance, students not only learn about a new topic in the classroom, they deepen their understanding through real-world experiences. For example, during a Save the Bay program, students learn about marine ecosystems during a classroom day and then use nets to collect data about what animals live at a local beach the next day on their offsite day. During the River Adventurers program, led by the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, students will learn about pollution and later take a trip to a local river for water quality testing or river clean-up. In DownCity Design, students may visit a park in the community, interview people who go to the park, and then use that information to inspire their ‘design challenge’ of constructing an addition to the park that will meet a community need. The onsite-offsite model of the summer program affords youth an opportunity to understand that learning can happen both in a classroom as well as in their communities at a local museum, beach, park, or community organization.
PASA wishes to congratulate Mayor Elorza for his recent study and report advocating for summer learning! Because of the Mayor’s commitment to summer learning, the White House and the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) have invited the Mayor to attend the Champions of Change event on Friday, Feb. 26th, at the White House. The Mayor has asked Superintendent of Providence Schools, Chris Maher, and PASA’s Director of Quality Initiatives, Ann Durham, to join him at the event, where leaders from across the country will learn about the latest summer learning resources, hear about what’s working and share best practices.