On Tuesday, Central Unified School District was applauded by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson for uniquely stepping up to serve its students during summer break.
"We're excited about the fact that the work we've been doing and the enrichment we've been providing our kids over the last several summers is actually being recognized on the state level," said Central Unified Superintendent Mike Berg.
The district received a seven year grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to fund a summer enrichment program. Its goal is to combat "summer learning loss," which studies show contributes to increased drop-out rates, obesity and a widening achievement gap between low-income and middle-income students.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, low income children are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading by the end of the fifth grade as a result of summer learning loss and unequal opportunities during the elementary school years are responsible for about two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between the two groups.
"We have a lot of kids in this community that don't have access to those opportunities," said Randy Mehrten with the Fresno County Office of Education. "And so they're summer enrichment includes Judge Judy, Jerry Springer, I mean they're getting babysat by the television. What we find is even if those kids stayed the same there's other kids with the economic capacity making gains during the summer because they're getting stimulating, cognitive rich opportunities and they come into school better prepared."
The summer program is held at Central East Campus for five weeks. Nearly 400 middle school students attend six hours a day and participate in a range of activities including group projects, field trips and exercise.
"We sell fun, but in selling fun you have to look at all kinds of wild, off-the-hook opportunities that kids do so," said Mehrten. "There's lots of robotics and aeronautics young kids, and particularly boys, would look at and go whoa, that's really exciting and almost risky."
The curriculum is wrapped around the theme of a single book.
"It was based on the book the Hunger Games and all the activities were based around what the book had in it," said middle school student, Hope Ocegueda. "So there were some classes in art, in acting. It was so much fun. I was like wow, I'm learning?"
Central Unified Superintendent Mike Berg said he's already seeing a difference in his students' performance. He said he plans to continue the program long after the grant expires in three years.
"We are a district that has kept a number of things going," he said. "In fact, we're expanding a number of programs despite the economic situation at the state level because we know when we invest in our students the fruits of our labor will be seen in their achievement and their success."
The Summer Matters 2012 campaign was organized by the nonprofit Partnerships for Children and Youth. It's supported by state and local agencies and aims to drum up support for summer learning, while expanding existing programs to serve an additional 50,000 low-income California children each summer.