PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As August arrives, some children dread the fact that the first day of school is only weeks away. But other children in Philadelphia public schools never stopped attending class thanks to the city's summer enrichment programs.
"Actually, I kind of like it," said Saffron Cuarezma, who will be starting the 5th grade this fall.
Cuarezma is one of the children attending the summer program at Southwark School in South Philadelphia. The school is one of the sites where Philadelphia is putting its new literacy program to work.
"Through the Office of Children and Families, we received a grant from the William Penn Foundation to expand some existing enrichment and learning and literacy programming," said Maxwell Akuamoah-Boateng, who serves as director of operations for community schools in the Philadelphia Office of Children and Families.
The Summer Literacy program is a two-year pilot program that promotes early literacy with educational and entertaining activities.
"Today we just went to the library and that was really fun," said Cuarezma.
The city is partnering with Sunrise of Philadelphia to provide educational instruction.
Being able to do this during the summertime for our students, I think it's going to put them in a better place come September," said Jennifer O'Shaughnessy, who is a lead literacy teacher with Sunrise of Philadelphia and a full-time teacher at Southwark.
Filling the gap during the summer is a big need as many schools combat COVID-19 pandemic learning loss.
"COVID certainly disrupted the flow of learning," said Akuamoah-Boateng.
"We're able to meet them right where they are... and build on that," said O'Shaughnessy. "Just in the last couple of weeks, I've seen them gain so many skills."
The program keeps the kids engaged while also keeping them safe, which is an increasingly important mission for the city's free and low-cost summer programs.
"It's been a really difficult summer with a lot of youth-related violence in the city. And the best we can do is provide youth those structured environments," said Akuamoah-Boateng.
"Being in school is very safe because there's a lot of people you can trust around here," said Emam Bin who is going to the 8th grade.
Bin also appreciates the fact that the program provides a leg-up on learning before the school year begins.
"You get an early head start," he said.
The goal is to keep the momentum going even after summer is over to help kids not just get ahead but stay ahead.
"When you see them take off," said O'Shaughnessy, "there's nothing more rewarding than that."
The program at Southwark is full, but the city of Philadelphia has several other programs that still have availability. Most programs run on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and continue until the week before Philadelphia public schools begin the school year. For a list of free and reduced-cost programs that are still accepting sign-ups, click here: https://www.phila.gov/2022-07-07-calling-all-kids-and-their-caregivers-enroll-now-in-a-free-or-low-cost-summer-program/