A new high-touch, low-tech approach to summer learning in West Philadelphia

The format of the joint pilot collaboration with the Netter Center and Penn GSE has been transformed to better focus on the needs of the young students.

Over the summer, Henry C. Lea Elementary in West Philadelphia has been humming with excitement and energy as students joyfully engage with interesting, colorful educational content. The activity is part of a joint pilot led by the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Penn’s Graduate School of Education, which has kids from kindergarten to third grade engrossed, immersed, and learning.

A Penn student teaches two elementary school students in a classroom.
A member of a classroom team works with a group of students in the summer program at Henry C. Lea Elementary in West Philadelphia. (Image: Joe McFetridge)

“The last two years [gave] us a lot of information about what works and what doesn’t. Really listening to the teachers and being creative about how instructional teams could be built for closer support of kids were really at the heart of this new model,” says Caroline Watts, a senior lecturer and director of Penn GSE’s Office of School and Community Engagement (OSCE).

Although this is the third summer of the Netter Center and Penn GSE collaboration, the program is being considered a pilot. That’s because this year, the learning model was radically altered. Instead of 45-minute blocks modeled to be like regular classes, students now cycle through stations within the classroom and work through smaller, more gamified tasks.

The changes were based on a considerable amount of feedback. While the first two years of the summer learning initiative were productive, teachers and paraprofessionals suggested that the program’s design should be more individualized.

“The idea, initially, was we were coming back from COVID, and we had a bunch of students, including a bunch of students who had spent their entire kindergarten year online, or had never been face-to-face with teachers, [and they were] going to be returning to school buildings [after] having a significant amount of that time spent on Zoom,” says Joy Anderson-Davis of the Responsive Math Teaching Project at Penn GSE, who helped design the program.

But three years in, they’ve had in-person instruction. The goals are different. And so is their attention span and ability to focus.

Read more at Penn GSE News.