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50% Fewer “Summer Dreamers”

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The third year of the Pittsburgh Public Schools' Summer Dreamers Academy is underway. The program aims to address summer learning loss between school years. However, the number of participating students has dropped dramatically compared to last year. The program started in the summer of 2010 when the school district received federal stimulus dollars. In that first year, they started with serving students who were leaving the 5th, 6th, or 7th grades. The program expanded in the summer of 2011 to serve 4,600 campers from kindergarten to 8th grades, and continued with that age group this year, but with half the students.

Christine Cray, Project Manager for the Summer Dreamers Academy, said once they knew they wouldn't have the stimulus money to operate, cutting back on the the number of kids was not their first option.

"We thought about any operational cost that we could reduce, so that included operating three larger sites which helped us to save some money on staffing," Cray said.

Cray said they decided to send the students to a Summer Dreamers Academy based on their zip code rather than their home school. After looking at operational cutbacks, Cray said, they could evaluate how many of the 4,043 applicants to accept. Once it was determined they could only accept 2,300 students, she said they set up a three-pronged enrollment system to "prioritize serving children that the research show are more at risk" of significant summer learning loss.

Tier one students demonstrated the need for a free or reduced-priced lunch and scored basic or below basic on PSSA testing. Tier two students demonstrated a need for a free or reduced-priced lunch or scored a basic or below basic on PSSA tests. Tier three demonstrated neither a economic or educational need by those standards.

"We were able to serve every tier one child that submitted an application form," Cray said. "Of the tier two, we accepted about 54%."

Some tier three students were accepted at the 7th and 8th grade levels just because the enrollment levels for those years were not as high. Cray said that funding options are being explored in addition to a Wallace Foundation grant that will keep the program running at least through next year.

The "summer dreamers" spend their mornings sharpening math and reading and language skills. In the afternoon, the campers participate in an activity of their choice, such as video game design or water polo, to encourage them to develop new hobbies.