The classrooms in the trailers outside Broad Rock Elementary School are filled with students in the middle of July.
But the 191 students — dubbed “scholars” by their teachers and administrators — aren’t in traditional summer school. They’re learning about engineering and astronomy; dancing and making arts and crafts.
They’re in the first class of a new program from Richmond Public Schools and the YMCA of Greater Richmond that brings students from across the city back into the classroom to curb summer learning loss, which disproportionately affects children from poor families.
“Our students deserve access to rigorous and exciting opportunities all year long,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras, who was at Broad Rock with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on Thursday to celebrate the program and mark National Summer Learning Week.
“It’s vital to a child’s growth that they get rich experiences not just between the hours of 8 and 3 o’clock during the school day,” said Stoney, who proclaimed Thursday as Summer Learning Day in Richmond.
The YMCA Power Scholars program started June 24 and ends July 26. The nationwide program has seven sites in the city — five elementary schools (Broad Rock, Miles Jones, Oak Grove-Bellemeade, Chimborazo and Linwood Holton) and two middle schools (Binford and Lucille Brown).
At those seven schools, more than 1,000 students — roughly 4% of the school district’s enrollment — learn from city school teachers in the morning for their academic work and then have various activities in the afternoon taught by YMCA employees. Richmond’s group is one of the largest in the U.S.
During the week, students learn both at the school and during Friday field trips. They receive breakfast and lunch.
Students take a test at the start of the program and one at the end to gauge progress. Across the country, participating students have boasted a month-and-a-half’s worth of academic growth in literacy and math, according to the YMCA.
That isn’t normally the case.
Research published in 2017 by the Brookings Institution found that, on average, students lose a month’s worth of school-year learning during the summer. The “summer slide” is more pronounced among low-income students, according to the research.
Statewide, two in five public school students live in poverty. In Richmond, it’s more than half.
The city school system’s students currently perform below the state average in math, reading, writing, science and social studies. The district’s 75 percent on-time graduation rate is the lowest in the state. Fewer than half of its 44 schools meet the state’s full accreditation standards.
“The Y is committed to equity in learning in all of our communities, and the Power Scholars program is one way that we can partner with school systems to ensure our students are not experiencing summer learning loss,” said YMCA CEO Tim Joyce.
The YMCA launched the program in Petersburg four years ago, serving roughly 200 students. With the expansion into Richmond, the program has grown 500%.
The program’s curriculum was created by Boston-based education consulting firm BellXcel.