Brown University’s SummerPrep program and 47th Summer High School drew nearly 325 local students to July sessions designed to brush up and expand knowledge in an enjoyable way. Their teachers are also learning ...

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — By mid-July most local high and elementary school students are weeks into summer vacation with no plans to break out the textbooks again until September. But for nearly 325 local students participating in two programs run by Brown’s Department of Education in July, it’s a chance to brush up on and expand their knowledge during a time of year when learning can sometimes take a backseat to fun.

Brown Summer High School, now in its 47th year, brings around 200 local high school students to campus for nearly four weeks each July for classes in English, history, math, and science, while more than 100 local elementary school students head to Community Prep School in Providence for Brown’s SummerPrep program to take classes in literacy, math, science, and physical education.

“The summer programs are giving local students the opportunity to have a really hands-on, innovative learning experience over the summer,” said Carin Algava, assistant director of teacher education in the Department of Education.

Teaching the teachers
Summer teachers are educators who are entering Brown’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. They learn a lot from students and from M.A.T. predecessors, who function as principals.

The programs are open to anyone, but it’s primarily local students from a diverse range of school districts, including many from Providence, who apply. Students in SummerPrep attend for free, while most Brown Summer High School students participate at no cost or for a small registration fee. Breakfast and lunch are provided to students through a subsidized state program, and the College Crusade of Rhode Island provides bus passes to many of the students for transportation to class each day.

While the focus of the programs is primarily the students and enriching their skills over the summer, they’re not the only ones who are learning during the four-week programs. Instructors for both programs are new students in Brown’s Master of Arts in Teaching program who have just arrived on campus to begin their degree programs. Leading a classroom at either Brown Summer High School or SummerPrep is one of their first assignments and a practical way for them to begin applying the lessons from their own classes.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to try out a lot of the things we are learning in our methods class and incorporate them into the classroom here,” said M.A.T. student Kandy Galvez as she prepared materials for the BSHS history class she was co-teaching later that day with Martez Files.

Brown M.A.T. students teach all but the math courses, which are led by math education students from a partnership of the Network of Liberal Arts Institutions and Brown.

The M.A.T. students take turns instructing and taking notes on their classmates’ performance for feedback later. They’re also paired with an experienced teacher from a local school who mentors them and offers suggestions for improvement as they design, plan, and make their way through the summer curriculum.

Stephen Martin, a teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Lincoln, R.I., says that he’s taken part in BSHS for the last 15 years because he gets out of it as much as he gives.

“Staying busy in the program over the summer is a way that I recharge my batteries. Not only do I share my teaching practices, but the M.A.T. students share their enthusiasm and passion with me.”

Brown faculty members supervise and collaborate with each of the teaching teams, and M.A.T. students who taught in the programs the previous year act as “principals.”

On a recent Thursday morning, a first-floor hallway of Barus and Holley was buzzing with activity as class began for BSHS. Each summer, students are presented with essential questions that guide the curriculum for each course, and with a glance into each classroom it was clear that the students were examining some big topics from a multitude of angles.

In a history class, students were chosen to play the role of either a policymaker or immigrant and explain the various sides of the current debate. In English class, students were using poetry to talk about some of the topics, like family and identity, presented in the fictional book Enrique’s Journey, about a 17-year-old who migrates from Honduras to the United States to be reunited with his mother. In a lab in MacMillan Hall, a science class was discussing biomimicry and ways to improve sustainability in urban settings.

Down the hall, in a classroom set up to serve as the BSHS principal’s office, Elyssa Perez, who graduated in June from Classical High School, worked on assignments for her role as the principals’ intern. Perez, who will attend Brown in the fall, fondly recalled the two summers she attended BSHS. Highlights from the program for her included spending time at the Sciences Library and dissecting a squid in science class. She said the program not only helped her improve her communication and research skills, but she also managed to mix in some summer fun along the way.

“I had a chance to meet people from Providence and all over the state that I normally wouldn’t have crossed paths with.”