HSLI has designed a summer program model that taps into what we know about motivation and engagement in learning. While summer school programs often focus on remediation through use of the same strategies used during the school year, HSLI uses Thematic curriculum to engage children in fun, experiential, hands-on activities. Thematic curriculum is a research-based strategy that provides staff with a practical tool that increases youth engagement, depth and breadth of learning, and fun connections to literacy activities. The curricula provide experiential learning activities with real-world applications. The library includes curricula in the arts (Hip Hop and Theater), Wellness and Life Skills (Outdoor Adventure, Fitness, Nutrition, and Career Exploration), Science and Technology (Design Squad, Watershed, Kids@Afterschool from the Boston Children’s Museum). On the last day of camp for Summer 2010 at the Gray House, the coach asked the children what their favorite day was, and one girl said: “Everyday! Camp was the most fun I’ve ever had! I love experiments.”
Literacy Supports are connected to the thematic curriculum and are designed to stem summer reading loss by increasing the volume of reading. HSLI provides children with access to books, Reader’s Theater, literacy station activities that are connected to their interests, and to the thematic curricula in which they engage during the summer months. The supports provided are “universal” strategies, designed to be fun and engaging for all children and youth, regardless of their reading level.
Training opportunities are provided for staff so they can implement the thematic curriculum and literacy strategies, including oral language development and meta-cognition. In addition, HSLI is the regional hub for the statewide training system for afterschool and summer programs, and these additional training opportunities are available for people in the network, including topics like the Basics of Coaching for Continuous Improvement, Partnering with families and schools and Supporting Children with Special Needs.
Technical assistance is provided by seasoned educators who are “coaches” to insure efficacy in carrying out the curriculum and literacy strategies. The coaches may be instructional reading specialists or elementary school teachers with experience in teaching reading, or they may be teachers or artists that have expertise in the curriculum areas, working 10-20 hours per week by the side of youth development staff.
Focus on quality improvement has been a longstanding priority for HSLI. Positive child outcomes are possible in high quality programs. HSLI places an emphasis on supporting program leaders so that they can work with staff to create a strong staff team, that knows how to move toward best practices. Staff attend quality improvement training, use a self-assessment observation tool and develop an action plan. In the 5 years since HSLI has started, tremendous gains have been made in program quality.
Action grants of $3,000 are given to programs. Each staff team decides how to utilize this quality enhancement money. Allowable expenses include:
- purchase of materials and supplies for the curriculum
- expansion of libraries and literacy materials
- staff stipends to attend training or for paid time for planning
- transportation and entrance fees for educational field trips
- funds to increase family engagement or coordination with schools