Friday, November 24, 2017
Education

Pinellas Summer Bridge program aims to help struggling students

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Standing outside, in the partial shade of a tree, Makeda Hartwell didn't try to hold back.

She shouted. She pointed. "I see a tree!" "I see some leaves!"

This wasn't a nature walk or a trip to the park. This was school. For Makeda, a 10-year-old student at Fairmount Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, this was also a really good time.

Makeda is one of about 10,400 students in elementary, middle and high school attending Pinellas County's Summer Bridge program this year. The six-week session, which continues through July 24, is designed to curb summer learning losses, particularly among struggling students. Students get an extra helping of reading, math and science, with a focus on hands-on activities.

Makeda's class, for instance, participated in a science scavenger hunt. Armed with journals, students looked outside the school for trees, leaves, butterflies, birds and frogs. As they did, their teacher, Linda Jenkins, asked for descriptions of their surroundings.

"Look up at the sky," she said. "What do you see?"

Students called out: "beautiful clouds" and "fluffy clouds."

The Pinellas County School District introduced the program last year, with a goal to reach 12,000 struggling students. The price was about $3.1 million in the first year, with much of that cost going to supplies that were reused this year. This year's cost is expected to be lower, about $2.4 million.

In its first year, about 6,600 students enrolled in the program; actual attendance was a bit lower. This year, the district exceeded its initial enrollment goal, with more than 13,000 students signing up, although actual attendance was again lower. District officials expected a dip and told schools to plan for about 75 percent of students showing up.

Enrollment figures were close to or exceeded that threshold, according to district figures. About 7,100 elementary students attended, compared to about 8,700 who enrolled. About 1,300 middle school students attended, compared to about 1,800 who enrolled. And about 1,900 high school students showed up, compared to about 2,600 who enrolled.

At Fairmount Park, principal Nina Pollauf said struggling students got the first pick of seats. After that, the school enrolled any interested students. Most showed up, she said.

"We want as many of our kids to be in Summer Bridge as possible because it stops the summer slide," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] Follow @fitz_ly on Twitter.

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