For years, Jennifer Dresmich, a middle school teacher in Pittsburgh, saw students come back from summer vacation further behind than when they left. Lessons from the prior year seemed to have evaporated under the summer sun. Some students needed weeks, if not months, of review before they were ready to settle into their new grade.
"I had to reteach quite a bit before I could even get started into the new curriculum … and we don't have time to reteach all the skills they had lost," Dresmich said. "And then there were other kids, who weren't necessarily bored, but you knew they were doing meaningful things over the summer, because those kids come in ready to go."
Today, Dresmich works as a curriculum coach for the Summer Dreamer Academy, a camp-like program that engages the poorest students in Pittsburgh public schools, hoping to bring all students onto even ground during the summer months. The academy offers three hours of reading and math lessons in the morning, followed by afternoon forays into swimming, ceramics, judo and even fencing.
"These are the things that we know kids – especially urban kids – wouldn't have the opportunity to do if it wasn't offered by the district," said Christine Cray, academy project manager.