Summer can be fun for schoolchildren. (Courtesy photo)
Summer can be fun for schoolchildren. (Courtesy photo)

An array of free summer enrichment classes rolling out within a matter of days will allow hundreds of D.C. Public Schools’ youngest students the opportunity to explore STEM and humanities-related careers under the auspices of the school system’s highest-rated instructors.

K-5 students enrolled in what’s touted as the Summer Discovery Program will attend morning and afternoon classes on one of eight DCPS campuses throughout June and July. The schools, half of which are located east of the Anacostia River, will serve as incubators of experiential learning in a variety of career fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“STEM opens doors for students of color. We want to make sure our students are able to access a summer learning experience [like at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University],” said Matthew Reif, DCPS deputy chief of advanced and extended learning, as he explained the rationale for the Summer Enrichment Program now in its third year as a resource to elementary-school aged students and their families.

Morning classes designed for the nearly 1,200 students, all of whom will enter an elementary class between Kindergarten and fifth grade in the fall, have eye-catching titles including “Law and Order: Investigating Crime and Fighting for Justice,” “Journey to Space” and “Simple (Not Really) Machines.”

In response to parents’ concerns about idle time during the summer, DCPS will also provide accompanying afternoon programming in conjunction with community partner organizations.

“We see that experiential learning makes an impact on students,” Reif continued, likening the summer program offerings to similar, expensive enrichment courses on college campuses throughout the country.

“We’ve designed the course to have that strong component. Every year, we refine the course and accompanying resources, and work with teachers so that it becomes more robust,” he said.

Research suggests that programs between the months of June and August prevent what’s described as “summer learning loss” – a phenomenon where students, especially those of lower socioeconomic status without access to enrichment opportunities, fail to maintain the same level of engagement with the study material, ultimately forgetting what they earned during the school year.

Summer learning loss often makes for a slow start to the upcoming school year, in part because teachers spend their time reviewing basic concepts with affected students.

In light of recent incidents involving D.C. students, including the murder of Maurice Scott and daytime shootings near Hendley Elementary, there has been much concern, as seen in conversations at community meetings and online forums, about how best to keep young people out of harm’s way and prepare them for college and career paths.

Leaders in Philadelphia, Chicago and other urban U.S. cities have faced similar quandaries.

Since its inception as a middle school pilot program in 2015, DCPS’ Summer Discovery Program has been heralded as a means of supporting young people’s academic growth. This year’s participants count among more than 2,000 DCPS students, or 10 percent of the total population, expected to participate in mandatory summer school and enrichment programs. Nearly 200 of those students will work toward summer graduation. Others will recover credits and ensure they’re on track for promotion to the next grade level.

“DCPS is thrilled to offer high-quality summer enrichment programming throughout the District that will broaden our student’s horizons,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. “As we continue to support student success at all levels, I am proud that we are offering enrichment opportunities that allow them to tap into their interests and aspirations in life.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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