The free ice cream wasn’t the primary draw of the day, though it was a definite plus. No, on Aug. 9, a jubilant crowd of 100 Cambridge teenagers at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS) celebrated first and foremost the successful end of six weeks of summer school.
Trading a certain amount of summer fun for classes in English, science, math, and other subjects, nearly 300 high schoolers went to Cambridge Harvard Summer Academy (CHSA) this year to make up for last semester’s classes, prepare for advanced placement classes, or just plain get ready for the upcoming year. The academy is a unique summer school for local high school students made possible through a partnership between Harvard University and the city of Cambridge.
“These students don’t have to be here,” said Jamal Prince, the summer school’s principal. “It’s their choice. They are here on their own and are taking the opportunity presented to them and doing their best with it.”
The academy, which has been helping local students for six years, is free, financed in large part by the University. This year marked the first of Harvard’s renewed five-year commitment to the program.
The partnership, officials say, is unusual. While teenagers learn, the teachers are learning too. Each class is equipped with a team of student teachers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) working toward a teaching certificate and gaining real classroom experience under the guidance of a veteran “mentor teacher.”
This model has brought about changes in the regular academic year. According to Cambridge School Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn, innovative use of class time and enticing start-up activities based on the summer classes have proven successful. “More kids are doing better in the classroom,” he says.
The structure is win-win. “It’s really a fabulous opportunity with both sides doing what neither could do alone,” says Katherine K. Merseth, director of the HGSE’s Teacher Education Program.
“The key to the model is the [Harvard] Ed School,” says City Councilor Anthony D. Galluccio, who helped begin the partnership while he was mayor of Cambridge and was present for the end-of-summer celebration. “And having so many instructors in the room gives the students the attention they need. I don’t know of a summer program that provides such incentives for learning.”
Sara Suchman, director of the CHSA at the Harvard School of Education, noted the important role veteran teachers play in preparing both high school students in the program and the new teachers coming into the profession. “Their dedication and skills are the linchpin of the program,” she said.
For incoming CRLS senior Whallen Woods, a North Cambridge resident, this summer’s literature class helped prepare him for the coming year.
“The teachers told us that if we do what we need to do, we can pass. With what they gave us to work on, I think it will be easier next year,” said Woods.
Woods, who spent his mornings reading and writing about literature, was still able to work during the afternoons at the Somerville Boys and Girls Club, a full enough schedule to make anyone proud of their summer accomplishments – and able to enjoy their ice cream without guilt.