High School Offers Innovative Programs to get Kids Back into the School Groove

Everett High School (EHS) has never been so full of life in July, but with an unprecedented slate of summer programs and summer learning on the plate, the high school has set out on a historic summer journey to help students find purpose and place and get ready for the September return to school.

All over the district, the Everett Public School summer program has excelled in offering the widest-range of summer learning and activities than they’ve ever offered. However, the EHS programming has combined summer learning recovery with interesting programs with new and different partners.

With high school mentors and Everett Police on hand, the annual Jr. Police Academy is meeting this week at EHS and out in the field.

Principal Erik Naumann and Asst. Principal Cory McCarthy (who is transition into the role of the district’s Chief Equity Officer) have put together the program that McCarthy said is more vigorous than most districts in the state.

“It is an historic summer,” said McCarthy, who started early in putting together the EHS summer programs. “It would be hard to find better programming anywhere in the state than what we have here this summer.”

English Learner (EL) program student Estefani Sorto takes a break from academics to work on a puzzle with teacher Marissa McQueeney. EL students and parents overwhelmingly asked for in-person learning this summer to help mitigate the education setbacks brought on by COVID-19 online learning.

Principal Naumann said he and McCarthy put together the plan, and McCarthy executed it and they are excited now to have kids in the building for their second week.

“Most schools and districts are behind and trying to play catch-up right now,” said Naumann. “Mr. McCarthy took the initiative to get ahead. He went above and beyond to make sure the students of Everett were ready for summer learning and summer programming…It certainly is the best summer programming we’ve ever had.”

The program exists in several components, with a stress on summer learning/credit recovery, English Learners (ELs) classes, social-emotional learning support and being active again.

Lucy DiNatale is coordinating the summer learning portion and helping students recover credits they may have lost due to failing or performing poorly in classes during the COVID remote year – a year that was particularly tough socially, emotionally and academically for high school students above any others.

“We’re helping them recover any credits they might have missed,” she said. “Because of COVID and Zooming all year, it was difficult for everyone. We want to help them get back on track for September.”

She said high school students in particular have been found to have suffered the worst, as they were the last to go back to school, and many of them had parents that had to go back to work. That often left them at home alone for long hours, with limited contact with friends and on the Zoom computer classes day in and day out. It led to isolation, depression and severe social-emotional issues for even the most well-adjusted students prior to COVID-19.

“They are at the disadvantage that they were the last to go back,” she said. “Their parents had to go back to work, and it was easy for them to stay in bed…That’s what happened to them and they admit that. They admit now staying in bed wasn’t the best decision and they see it wasn’t. Even the scholars that like school found it difficult to stay motivated…It was easy to stay under the covers.”

For most of the kids in the summer learning/credit recovery program, they are showing up enthusiastically. The program is online Mondays and Fridays, but in person the rest of the week. DiNatale said part of the process is giving kids purpose and a place, which is what they are doing in the summer program.

“It comes down to purpose and place, and that’s big,” she said. “Some of the kids are saying they are so happy to have to get up and shower and have somewhere to go. They are regaining that sense of place at the school, and their purpose here too.”

In one of the more innovative programs at the high school, a wide range of students are participating in EHS’s first-ever Elevating Agricultural Technology (EAT) program. In a partnership with the Timothy Smith Network, the Boston Design Center and Microsoft, students are able to use the very advanced Surface 3 laptops to combine engineering, computer coding and agriculture together in a nine-week program.

In the EHS library this week, there advanced laptops sit in combination with bags of potting soil and seeds for growing food crops. With so much biotech in Boston, students are being trained for the food engineering industry that is emerging in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. About 20 or more students attend daily and are paid a $15 stipend for their work all summer long – one of the newest ways that school systems are looking to get urban kids out of retail jobs and into innovative summer opportunities.

Program Director Courtland Ferreria-Douglas and EHS Graduate and Program Assistant Ahmed Alananzeh help students to use the Surface 3 laptops and the most advanced software to find engineering solutions to simple gardening issues. They will also be coding in three computer languages and commanding a Splero car to perform certain tasks.

“This program is a combination of agriculture and design,” said Ferreria-Douglas. “We’re fortunate in Boston to be surrounded by a lot of technology companies and many of them are working in the food industry and agricultural sciences…We’re showing students there is this coalition of technology and agriculture.

Recent graduate Alana Mathis said the program has helped her to be motivated to learn more about coding and engineering.

“The opportunity sounded pretty good to me for a summer job,” she said. “It had a lot of tech, a lot of opportunities to connect to people and it helped me to do things I wouldn’t usually do or wouldn’t go out and do on my own. This was a very different program, plus I got paid. It wasn’t something that was too much for me and I’d recommend it to other people.”

Said Student Clinton Ngamne, “When I first looked at it, it was this combination that was unusual because it’s agriculture and technology. I wondered how those two thing went together. It has ended up being great because I love science and I’m learning about agriculture…I’ve looked at other program, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this.”

For the EL students, Director Brittany Hay said they heard loud and clear from parents that they wanted their students to be at the school in a program, and not on Zoom during the summer.

“It was important for us to offer a program for every single English Learner, some 400 or more, in the district,” she said.

On Monday, students in Marissa McQueeney’s class were going over poetry, and looking forward to later in the day when they would get to work out at the Fitness Center. With some having arrived in the United States just six months ago, they were excited to learn how to use the stair climbing fitness machine, while also focusing in the morning on math, English and science.

“The students are very excited to re-claim routines,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of social-emotional learning and getting to know the school building too. It’s going to be fully half of the school that won’t know their way around next year.”

This week, the East Boston-based Zumix program will be coming to the EL classrooms to use music for team-building and other activities, and they have also hosted artists who have shown their work or performed for them.

This week, also, kids from the middle school began participating in a program at EHS called the Three Point Junior Shark Tank Program – which uses technology and STEM to teach kids with a social-emotional aspect that helps them overcome the tough times they confronted in 2020. Later in the year, MIT will be providing a program to teach Algebra to high schooler using Virtual Reality kits.

It’s all part of a program that, which focused now on COVID-19 recovery, will likely be parlayed into the future to help young people in Everett get a leg up on their peers in the suburbs and in private schools.

McCarthy calls it “something extra.”

“Our district and our kids always need something extra,” he said. “They have to always think about what something extra means. We have to strive to find the best engagement with the kids. Just one kid could reach 1,000 other kids later.”

For more information on the EHS summer programs, go to https://sites.google.com/everett.k12.ma.us/ehs-summer-school.

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