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Summer = Learning + Fun for Portland Students

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Summer = Learning + Fun for Portland Students
Posted on 08/06/2015
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This summer, Portland Public Schools students have been engaged in such activities as creating an inflatable planetarium to learn about the stars, attending a Summer Research Adventure Camp to explore such topics as déjà vu and the possibility of life on other planets, and going geocaching – hunting for and finding a hidden object with the aid of GPS coordinates.

They’re all part of the summer programs offered this year by the Portland Public Schools and partners as part of Portland’s new Feeding Bodies & Minds collaborative project. The project combines summer learning and free summer meals for children and youth 18 and under. More than 900 of them have participated in summer programming so far this year. The programs are still ongoing through the middle of August.

Some of the learning that went on was showcased on Thursday, Aug. 6, in a Celebration of Learning at Deering High School, where students about to enter high school this fall explained the projects they’ve been working on this summer.

For example, Lucy Oster, 14, who’ll be a freshman at Casco Bay High School in September, participated in a Grade 8 to 9 Transition Program. One of the projects in the program involved students visiting the University of Southern Maine’s Southworth Planetarium and then creating their own inflatable planetarium.

That planetarium, created out of black plastic sheeting and almost completely filling a classroom at Deering on Thursday, enables visitors who crawl inside to view constellations students mapped out on the roof of the plastic dome.

The interdisciplinary project involved such subjects as math – students had to depict the constellations in the night sky according to scale, for example. It also involved English language arts, as the students researched the constellations and studied the Greek mythology about them.

Melissa Labbe, summer program coordinator for the Portland Public Schools, said many people assume that summer learning means just sitting in a classroom but the PPS summer programs offer much more. “This is what summer learning looks like, “ Labbe said, indicating the planetarium.

Lucy said she’s interested in the constellations and math but felt her knowledge of both was limited. Now, through the summer learning program, she said, “I know them both a little more.”

Lauren Paradise and Isabel Hungerford, who’ll be freshmen at Portland High School this fall, were among students who attended the Summer Research Adventure Camp this summer. Students in the camp chose a subject to research and PPS school librarian Coreen Modisette helped them hone their research skills so they could delve into their topics.

Modisette said the students’ topics were incredibly diverse, ranging from the phenomenon of déjà vu to what is entailed in becoming an orthopedic surgeon, which is the goal of a student who’ll be a freshman at Deering High School this fall.

All the students on Thursday exhibited posters they made to showcase their research.

Lauren, who hopes to be a history professor one day, did research on World War II and the Holocaust so she could develop a college course syllabus on the topic.

Isabel, who wants to go to business school and also minor in economics, decided to research capitalism and how it functions in various economies around the world.

The students’ work will help earn them early credit for high school. “I’m so impressed with them,” Modisette said.

When Lauren was asked why she chose to attend the research camp, she said she tries to balance fun and learning in the summer. She said she likes to spend time with friends, “but I like to keep my mind going, so when I come back to school, I’ll be ready to work.”

Portland Public Schools Interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker attended the Celebration of Learning and said afterwards, “The value of this type of summer learning is enormous. And seeing the students’ excited faces as they explained their learning projects in the middle of August was very rewarding.”

The Portland Summer Success: Feeding Bodies & Minds program also provides free lunches to kids and teens age 18 and younger at 18 neighborhood sites across the city. Almost every summer meal site also offers summer learning opportunities—such as science experiments, reading, games, and crafts. The program began June 29 and runs through Aug. 14.

Portland is believed to be the only community in the nation that has put nutrition and learning together this way on a citywide scale, according to Mike Dixon, executive director of Portland ConnectED, a cross-sector partnership working to improve educational and economic outcomes for Portland children, families and students from cradle to career.

Feeding Bodies & Minds is a collaborative project of Portland ConnectED partners – including the Portland Public Schools, Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, The Opportunity Alliance, Healthy Portland, 211 Maine and more – all working with the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

This year, the Portland summer meals program is also supported by grant funding through Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool & Summer Meals Programs (CHAMPS), an initiative of the National League of Cities and the Food Research and Action Committee.

For more information about summer meals and summer learning, visit www.portlandschools.org and click on the “Portland Summer Success: Feeding Bodies & Minds” button at the bottom of the home page. You can also click here.
Lauren Paradise and Jeanne Crocker Inflatable Planetarium
Jeanne Crocker, Coreen Modisette and studentsLucy Oster