Southbridge Receives $93,650 in Summer Step Up Funding to Support Young Learners

Southbridge Public Schools (SPS) and local community partners joined forces with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley to expand and enhance summer programs for young learners. Southbridge received $93,650 in Summer Step Up funds to give extra support to young learners entering school in the fall.

The Baker-Polito Administration announced in Revere that more than $7 million in funding was spread across 30 school districts and 84 non-profit organizations in the Commonwealth, including Southbridge.

“We were pleased to provide schools and community partners opportunities and funding to make these important activities happen this summer for students in all grades, at no cost to their families,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

Summer Step Up is a new program launched by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) designed to accelerate learning during critical summer months for young children who have had limited access to in-school experiences due to COVID-19. More than 2,000 young children entering pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade benefited from these expanded summer learning opportunities across the state. Summer Step Up programs engaged young learners and smoothed the transition to in-person learning to give young children a strong foundation in the early grades.

“Research continues to show that a strong foundation entering school sets students up for long-term academic success,” said Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. “Our new Summer Step-Up program is already making an impact, supporting school districts, in collaboration with community partners and national experts, to maximize the critical summer months to provide young children with in-person learning experiences that will ensure they are prepared for school in the fall.”

Southbridge Public Schools collaborated with United Way and the YMCA of Central MA on this effort. Specifically, this funding helped to connect rising kindergarteners to rigorous, engaging, and fun community-based summer programming. Programming was designed to aid in the students' transition to in-person learning this fall. 

“The summer Step-Up program was a great success.  I am very grateful to everyone who made it possible.  The funding provided by the program allowed the Southbridge Public Schools to extend our existing collaboration with the YMCA and provide some of our youngest learners with a quality summer program” revealed Jeffrey A. Villar, Ph.D. Receiver and Superintendent of Southbridge Public Schools. “As a result of this program, I am confident these children will experience increased success in school this year.” 

The YMCA focused on children involved in their early childhood daycare programming in particular. In addition, SPS worked with them to ensure that one SPS teacher was embedded in each YMCA classroom. They partnered with staff there to build student’s early literacy skills and aid them in learning the systems, structures, and routines adopted by SPS along with the social-emotional skills needed to succeed within the classroom and beyond. 

"This incredible grant from the United Way provided an amazing opportunity for the YMCA Child Care Program and the Southbridge Public School staff to do something that had never been done before," said Glenn Junco. "This program gave students a chance to get familiar with the routines, language, expectations, and faces they will see and hear on their first day of Kindergarten. This program was without a doubt a success, and we truly hope that we can continue this effort for summers to come." 

The Summer Step Up Program has also partnered with seven educational and technical assistance organizations to provide unique content, curriculum, materials and practices to ensure high quality summer learning experiences for young learners. This additionally assisted pre-k-2nd grade educators and community partners in their ability to support children during the summer and into the new school year, while meeting the goals of the Summer Step Up Program. These partners include the Boston Children’s Museum, Erikson Institute, JASON Learning, Museum of Science, Project Adventure, Education Development Center, and Collaborative for Educational Services. 

The Baker-Polito Administration committed more than $70 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Response (ESSER) discretionary funds for school districts and community-based organizations to offer summer learning and recreational programs to help students grow academically and socially after a school year disrupted by COVID-19. The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is working with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley to administer $10 million of these funds in grants for Summer Step Up programs through the fall. United Way of South Central Massachusetts is partnering in this effort to provide on-the-ground support with community engagement, partnership development, and project coordination. 

“We have yet to understand the full, long-term impact of COVID-19 on young people’s social-emotional and academic development,” said Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The immediate effects of disrupted learning are already evident, and United Way is proud to foster coordinated, meaningful partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations to support transitions to in-person learning for our youngest students.”

“Our local United Way located in Southbridge is happy to have been a part of connecting the Southbridge School System with the Summer Step Up Program” stated Mary O’Coin, Executive Director, United Way of South Central Massachusetts. “I had the opportunity to visit the classrooms and see these pre-K students engaging in fun learning activities. The collaboration with a member agency, such as the YMCA Tri-Community Family Branch ensured these children are prepared for the coming school year.”