Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative ‘sneaks in learning’

Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative ‘sneaks in learning’

From left, Sheena McFarlane, Jasmine Young, Alanna Neves, with staff member Sandra Fernandes, experiment with indoor lighting during a photography lesson that is part of the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative. (Breeze photos by Amanda Levenson)

Put away the textbook, set the pencil and paper aside, and step away from the desk – it’s time to learn with the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative.

The HSLI is a six-week summer program offering Rhode Island children a chance to continue learning during break through hands-on experiences and real-world applications. It has been around for seven years, and is powered by funding from the Hasbro Children’s Fund, United Way of Rhode Island, and private dollars from donors.

“This isn’t a desk-bound model where teachers are at the front of the room and young people are just forced to listen to them,” said Joseph Morra, senior project manager for expanded learning at United Way. “We’re basically sneaking in learning with HSLI.”

The program strives to counter “summer learning loss,” which is when students lose up to two months of math computational skills because they are not consistently learning. “Summer learning loss” impacts all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, but children from lower-income situations may additionally lose up to two months of reading skills, according to experts.

The HSLI is made up of 14 program sites serving 10 communities: Central Falls, Cumberland, Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, Westerly, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.

Morra said statistics show the positive academic impact of the program. Using data from schools, HSLI staff found that over one half of participating students didn’t have “summer learning loss.”

The social and emotional impact on participants is also measured. Morra said the Survey of Academic Youth Outcomes shows students feel challenged by the work done over the summer. This is good, he said, because organizers don’t want students coming in and already knowing everything.

Activities include cooking, gardening, arts and crafts, videography and photography, and community service learning. Each activity incorporates skill-building and learning, whether students realize it or not. For instance, cooking requires reading recipes and comprehending fractions, and gardening entails following steps and reading.

But what separates the program from school? Morra said the key is making learning subtle, so that the children don’t even realize they’re gaining knowledge.

“Fun can’t trump academics, and academics can’t trump fun. There has to be a mixture or a marriage together,” he said.

Pre-teen program coordinator Shirley Rodriguez said that she watches participants grow over the course of the summer. They come in shy and not knowing what to expect, and are devastated that the program is over by the last day.

“It’s empowering. The kids we have are great kids and they come back every day because they’re having fun, and we’re empowering them to be better people, both inside and out,” she said.

According to Rodriguez, a great example of this is the service learning project that 5th-graders are currently working on.

They are researching how to make dog toys so they can sell low-cost toys to families who struggle to afford them.

Sheena McFarlane, a 10-year-old in the program at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket, said she likes meeting new people through the program and the activities it offers.

“Cooking is my favorite. Whenever I’m cooking, everything goes away and I’m focused on one thing – and that’s cooking,” she said.

Jasmine Young, 10, also said that cooking is her favorite part of the program. She said that she has learned a lot about teamwork and that the lessons help prepare her for the fall.

“I like it because it helps me when I go back to school,” she said. “It helps me with math, science, and reading definitely.”

This is the goal of the program, since it is designed to meet curriculum standards in district schools.

Planning for each year’s summer program begins in January, said Morra. The planning and implementation team is made up of school and community based professionals, who come together to create a six-week curriculum. The participation of teachers helps the program align with school year objectives, and can even allow staff to anticipate and meet a specific child’s needs that have already been identified in a regular classroom.

Jerrick Almeida, 10, said that he knows he is learning at the HSLI, but he hardly realizes it.

“We get to do more activities than we do in school,” he said. “School all you do is work, work, work. Here you get breaks and to play with your friends sometimes.”

Myles Robinson, left, and Alexander Chamorro work together to paint during an art activity at the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club, one of 14 Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative sites.