Blending academics and fun: Projects for Progress award powers local summer program from Penn GSE and Netter Center

October 5, 2021
A teacher works with two students

A group from Penn GSE and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships teamed up for a project dubbed “Bridging Gaps and Building Capacity,” which received an inaugural Projects for Progress award. (Photograph by Eric Sucar.)

“We just have fun every day,” said 14-year-old Luella Moreno, chatting inside a classroom at the Penn Alexander School this past July. No matter the activity, whether it’s math or writing or art or gardening, she said, “they always incorporate fun with it.”

This summer, Moreno was one of more than 200 enrolled students in a special six-week collaboration between the Penn Graduate School of Education and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Flourishing in large part because of an award from the University’s inaugural Projects for Progress (P4P) initiative, the program’s model—balancing engaging academic content with entertaining experiences outside of the classroom—was unique by strategic and thoughtful design, especially amid a pandemic that kept many students from learning in person for the past year and a half. 

“Our goal was to provide something in person for kids that would help grease their wheels to get ready to go back to school but would not be remedial, would not give the message of, ‘You have lost all this learning, you have to catch back up,’” said Caroline Watts, director of the Office of School and Community Engagement at Penn GSE and one of the partnership’s leads. “Instead, we give them the message of, ‘Hey, let’s come back, let’s be together, and let’s enjoy it.’”

The team behind the “Bridging Gaps and Building Capacity” initiative carefully crafted a program for students spanning first through eighth grades (and some rising ninth graders) targeting students from five West Philadelphia schools: Penn Alexander, Henry C. Lea, Benjamin Comegys, Andrew Hamilton, and S. Weir Mitchell. Several of the students, who all attended free of charge, were bused from and back to their home schools every Monday through Friday. 

Penn Today videographer: Denise Henhoeffer.

Each day started with breakfast and a morning gathering, typically involving a song “to get ready for a great day,” said Aurora Coon of the Netter Center, who served as a co-site director for the program. Every student would then break out into their respective academic blocks, which consisted of math, literacy, and counseling, led by teachers from the community. Lunch and recess time came next, followed by a variety of afternoon enrichments.

“We have cooking, karate, fitness, basketball, art, acting, anything you can imagine,” said Coon. 

“The program itself I think is a really great model, and I’ve worked in this field for quite some time,” added co-site director Latifah Anderson. “I’ve always enjoyed summer programs that offer academics and enrichment, and that’s what we do.”

-Penn Today Writer: Lauren Hertzler

Learn more about the program in Penn Today’s Meshing academics and fun for a summer program like no other.