By Paula Ebben

SALEM (CBS) – The depth of pandemic learning loss is a real concern across Massachusetts as a new school year begins. But Salem hopes to have gotten a jump start in closing that gap.

At the Saltonstall School in Salem teachers are using project-based learning to work on science concepts.

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“We’re keeping them in the routine of coming to school. working with peers, working with adults and just keeping that momentum going so they can hit the ground running in September,” Erin Harrington, an instructor with “Leap for Education” told WBZ-TV.

It’s part of a free, grant-based collaboration with the city that’s giving kids structure and helping to fill in those academic gaps.

“It’s embedding those math and reading skills in the context of the project,” Harrington said.

For rising eighth grader Luciano it’s creating opportunities to think critically.

“I’ve been working on utopian society and I’m working with a partner that’s working on dystopian,” he told WBZ.

And the program allows students to build relationships.

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“You do experiments. you’re available to do more stuff. and you get to have fun,” said rising seventh grader Lia.

That’s something educators say the children desperately need after a more than a year of technology-based learning.

“We need to ground the kids in the books and things that are tangible, that they can discuss, that they can connect to and a little bit away from the virtual world,” said Principal Ruben Carmona.

He told WBZ the number of students that needed a boost is up dramatically, a result of lost learning from the pandemic.

Enrollment is up from 40 last summer to 240 this year.

“I think overall students who are participating in this program I think it’s going to help them build the skills that will make them more successful next school year,” Sandra Castillo, site coordinator for the LEAP program, told WBZ.

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While learning loss because of the pandemic was unavoidable Principal Carmona was quick to acknowledge the work of his teachers saying the amount of adjustments and accommodations they made to support kids virtually was incredible.

Paula Ebben