Sociedad Latina STEAM Team is a summer learning program for English Language Learner students entering 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. The program, which is located at Simmons College, is part of the Summer Learning Project, pairing BPS and BASB to prevent summer learning loss.
Providing teachers with the materials and space they need is helpful in ensuring space is used effectively.
Because the program takes place on a college campus, staff has the opportunity to take advantage of plentiful indoor and outdoor space, and students are inspired by the university environment.
Although teachers are not able to leave materials in the classrooms overnight, they overcome the challenge by putting up and taking down student work in the classrooms each day.
Teachers use student feedback to engage youth in learning and keep students interested in a classroom environment.
Q: What tools do you use to ensure that space is being used effectively, and how is that space organized?
A: Each teacher is given materials at the beginning of the program, and we have a storage space that they use. They each get a box. It’s been a little difficult because last year they were able to leave the materials within their space in the classrooms and this year they are not, but I think they’ve made the best of it. They carry the materials to their room every day, and I think in their classrooms, they do a great job of utilizing the space.
Small group work is great because the available space is so big, and then they’re able to do large circle work and individual work as needed. But I think the outdoor space is the most important space because they do a lot of work outside on the quad, taking advantage of the outside area that we have here.
The theme for this summer is building a futuristic Boston, so they’re all collaboratively working on what they feel Boston should look like in 2030, and they’re taking into account things like transportation and housing. They’ve been going on a lot of walks around the neighborhoods (Mission Hill, the areas that they live in) and looking at housing and transportation and safety, and they’re going to be building models of what they want it to look like incorporating math and ELA pieces.
Q: How does the location of a college campus affect the learning environment?
A: This space has been wonderful for the kids in that they can walk here from where they live, but it’s a professional setting, so they’re actually getting to see what a college campus looks like—they’re getting to see professors, they’re getting to see students, they’re getting to see what it’s like to actually be in college and be on a college campus. I think it’s awesome to see them asking questions and thinking about next steps, especially my eighth graders that are going to high school next year. They’re starting to be forward thinking and ask, “What am I interested in?”, “What am I doing?”
Q: How have you worked around the challenge of not being able to leave materials in the classroom to ensure that student work is still displayed?
A: A lot of the teachers do take the work and, every morning, still hang it up around so that they get the feeling that this space really is theirs, even though they have to take it down every day. I think as we move forward with the models, that will be a good visual for the classrooms as well, because now they’re building the small pieces together but as we get into the final weeks they’re going to really start putting them together. Those are going to be able to be carried into the classroom on large cardboard (we’ve been saving cardboard boxes).
Q: How do you plan ahead to use the space intentionally? For example, are academic activities done in a certain area for a certain reason while enrichment activities are done in another area for other reasons?
A: In the mornings, they use the classrooms solely for instruction when computer technology is needed (PowerPoint) but we do a lot of tangible work. They utilize the quad all the time, you’ll oftentimes see them out there in a group reading together, or our music teacher comes in and they do drum work, so they all get in a circle and do drum work together. I think the classroom space is definitely utilized but the outdoor space has been amazing for them to just get outside and do work out there, too. Teachers aren’t very strict about that. Because this is enrichment and we want it to be fun, teachers have the flexibility to build their own curriculum and they can use whatever space they feel is best for their kids.
Q: How do you make this classroom learning experience different here at Simmons than it is for the students in their normal school?
A: The teachers definitely have been challenged to make it fun, so they use a lot of time planning so that it’s interesting and tangible to the kids’ lives. We found really quickly this year in planning this futuristic Boston that there were parts of the criteria that our kids just don’t know or, to be honest, care about, because it’s not relevant to their lives. One of them was recycling, which is super important, but a lot of our kids were like, “we don’t recycle, we don’t have a car, violence is a huge issue in our neighborhood.” So I think some of our teachers who work with our older students have been able to tailor the lessons to things that engage them and that they’re interested in. I think as long as they’re engaged, and as long as they’re having fun, I think whatever work they’re doing here this summer is important to them.
Sociedad Latina STEAM Team is located at Simmons College and serves 60 middle school students from Boston Public Schools. Students attend the program either to make up missed school year credits or to reap the benefits of summer learning. All students are English Language Learners, and each class has varying levels of English language proficiency. There is a focus on academics, and youth enjoy choice between clubs such as robotics, inventions, engineering, art, and video production for enrichment.