By Paula Ebben

BROCKTON (CBS) – Kids are counting the days until the start of summer vacation…and summer fun. But parents are understandably concerned about lost learning over the past school year, and how to help children catch up without taking away an important childhood summer experience.

Smiling faces and fun activities – we all want children to enjoy feeling free during the next few months. At the Brockton Boys & Girls Clubhouse – the main goal for this summer after a year of remote schooling? “The pandemic was traumatic for youth,” said Marcus Washington, Executive Director of the Brockton Clubhouse. “We want them to have fun but also get the academics – without them realizing they’re getting the academic work.”

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The Brockton Clubhouse is outfitted with a learning center room that will encourage reading, art and music rooms, a teen hangout area, and a huge gym where campers will play games like “human Connect-4” that will integrate math into the game.

Washington says after a year in front of screens, children need freedom, but also some help. How does he plan to let kids be kids, but also attend to their potential learning loss? “We’ll have an equal balance of both,” Washington said. “The biggest thing is that our summer camps are a safe place for kids to come. We’ll follow CDC guidelines, but it’s a safe place for kids to come and let loose!”

Brockton will have access to about a half a million dollars in funding between federal and state government programs to support children over the summer. That money means that for the first time, the Boys & Girls Club will be able to hire four Brockton Public School teachers to instruct and assess each child. It’s an idea that has been woven in to summer camps in the Providence area, and instructors say – it works.

“I was able to pilot this in Providence schools,” says Kate Messier, Vice President and Chief Program Officer who hired Washington to bring the idea to Brockton.

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“Schools found that students who needed that academic support – the students and their families did not want to spend six weeks in a hot public school building – so they didn’t attend. If you don’t attend you don’t get the academics you don’t make progress. I thought…if we put it inside a summer camp in a setting that’s about friendship, achievement, character development, and disguise it as camp programming, everyone would win.”

Like educational ninjas, the teachers will observe and evaluate campers and report back to their parents and Brockton teachers in the fall.

Messier added, “Disguising Brockton Public School teachers as counselors for kids four to eight so these staff will deliver academic interventions as part of an overall project based camp model so kids won’t realize it’s summer school – just day camp.”

Washington is looking forward to his ideal day in the Clubhouse this summer: “Rooms filled with laughter,” he says, “cheering sounds of kids is one of the best sounds you can hear. The main goal is for the youth coming here to have a fun, safe time – separate from what happened during the pandemic…and be a kid again.”

The Brockton Clubhouse will offer a college and career program for teens as well, and organizers stress that there is plenty of room left to sign up for all age groups for this summer, and they offer “Camperships.”

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Paula Ebben