New summer boost program yielding results in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — Students are already showing improvement in both math and reading after a new Summer Boost Program launched this year.

School officials said instead of focusing on remediation “like in typical summer schools,” the staff and teachers focused on acceleration and set high expectations. The program aims to provide students with targeted instruction that will strengthen and accelerate their current levels of academic performance.

“I’ve never seen that level of engagement and excitement on kids in a summer program as long as I’ve been in education and I think that is a testament to all of the work,” Fairfield Superintendent Mike Cummings said.

The Summer Boost Program was made possible through money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, a portion of the overall American Rescue Plan. Fairfield received it in mid-march, which meant the district had to work quickly to get the program up and running by the start of July.

“We had quite a number of staff and teachers in the district who contributed to the work to create the elementary and middle school program,” Cummings said. “The program directors in central office were invaluable in building the initial program as well as the executive director team and our transportation department. Everybody fell in line and really worked hard very quickly to get this in place.”

The short time frame forced the school district to develop the curriculum, set the goals of the program, hire staff, go through professional development and order materials a lot quicker than they normally planned to do.

“It was a tremendous lift,” Paul Rasmussen, program director and Fairfield’s director of secondary math said. “It was a team effort across the board.”

Fairfield officials said part of the goals for the program was to create an environment that is conducive to growth. Based on the percentile ranks from the previous year, there were several grades that showed regression in math and reading, however, after the summer program those numbers are changing from the better.

“Percentile rank is one of the hardest things to change,” Rasmussen said. “We saw positive improvements across some of the grades not just in the boost program, but also related to the tutoring.”

The summer program was split into two parts, which included the actual summer boost program and also a tutoring portion. The tutoring portion was a synchronous and distance learning experience. Students participated in about 20 sessions between July and early August mainly focusing on math and English Language Arts, or ELA, content.

The boost program also offered 16 sessions of a “camp-like” experience for students between kindergarten and eighth grade throughout July. The curriculum aligned to the standards of the current Fairfield Public Schools science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) unit curriculum. The students also participated in a project-based learning approach.

The list of projects for each grade consisted of discovering dinosaurs for first grade, learning about sound waves for second grade, discussing pollinators for the third grade and learning about bridges in the fourth grade. Students in fifth through eighth graded actually designed several projects, including playgrounds, a solar oven, redesigning a middle school and designing a garden.

“One of my favorite things, was just walking into every classroom each day and greeting the students,” said Peter G. Shanazu, acting principal of the boost program. “They were just really joyed. They kept telling me over and over again how much they loved their teachers and that they were having so much fun.”

Looking forward, the directors of the program would like to implement a few changes for the next boost program. First, the program directors would like to start the planning earlier to give the school more time. They would also like to evaluate the program’s projects to better meet the interest of the students as well as personalize the specific needs of students more to better support their learning.