Chancellor Carmen Fariña met with students, administrators, and even a few chickens on a visit to a summer enrichment program at P.S. 154 in the South Bronx on Tuesday.

Fariña was there to promote Summer Quest, a free, five-week program that seeks to stem summer learning loss in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. While all Summer Quest sites combine academics and camp activities, this one also focuses on healthy living; its students were preparing to run a farmer’s market featuring produce from the school’s garden and eggs from the small chicken coop next to the school.

Summer Quest has grown nearly 60 percent since last year and is serving 2,800 low-income elementary and middle school students. This is the final summer of a three-year pilot, and Fariña said she hopes “to keep expanding it throughout the city.”

“Obviously we’re reviewing all the benefits to see if it’s really worth continuing,” she said. “We’re very excited about the results that we’re seeing, specifically the high level of student enthusiasm, parent involvement, and administrator happiness.”

After the visit, Fariña praised instructors for using hands-on learning to teach students new vocabulary and how to articulate their thoughts.

“Everywhere we went there were kids talking,” she said, “and part of the Common Core is having them build self-confidence and the ability to present an idea or something to an audience.”

Summer Quest students at P.S. 154 decorate egg cartons to use at their farmer's market.
Summer Quest students at P.S. 154 decorate egg cartons to use at their farmer’s market.

While the majority of Summer Quest students are enrolled in the program voluntarily, last year 9.7 percent of campers participated as an alternative to summer school.

That same year, Summer Quest’s third-through-eighth graders performed as well as summer school students on the city’s post-summer school exam, suggesting that a mix of academics and enrichment could be effective in place of a strictly academic program for students needing additional help before being promoted to the next grade.

At P.S. 154, 18 percent of this year’s Summer Quest students are mandated to attend in lieu of summer school. Assistant Principal and site director Jessica Cruz said the school was “very strategic” in recruiting students who struggled academically and could benefit most from the program.

“We have high achievers, we have students who are below grade level. They’re all working together,” P.S. 154 Principal Alison Coviello said, adding that the attendance rate at her site (84 percent so far) has increased from previous years, potentially because Summer Quest is combating the negative connotations of summer learning.

“Children are realizing that summer learning is so much fun,” she said.

But some students, like Janke Jagana, are all business. Jagana was mandated to attend Summer Quest, and while she enjoys the program, “I didn’t come here to have fun,” she said. “I came here to learn.”

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