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Girls Scouts, math and forensics help keep kids engaged with summer learning

Kindergarten students participate in activities at the 100 Black Men Summer Academy at IPS School 74.
Kindergarten students participate in activities at the 100 Black Men Summer Academy at IPS School 74.
Meghan Mangrum

While fourth graders lean over plastic trays on their desks, blowing soap bubbles with a straw, their teacher walks around the room doling out cups of a dishwashing soap and water mixture. In a classroom down the hall, a cluster of kindergartens in matching t-shirts scream a chant that begins with “we are the future.”

These are some of the activities for students who choose to go to school over the summer at the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis’ Summer Academy.

A youth development organization, 100 Black Men, hosts an annual six-week summer academy for students from low-income families to combat the academic gains that are lost when school is out.

The summer academy, which runs for six weeks out of IPS School 74, combines an academic curriculum with recreational activities, like time in the gym or field trips, for over 130 students in grades K-8.

“We want to keep their minds sharpened, so when they come to school next fall, they will be prepared,” said 100 Black Men of Indianapolis director Ontay Johnson.

Students, whose families pay $200 for the entire program, spend each morning in class covering language arts, math, and science through a variety of methods. Teen Girl Scouts come in weekly to conduct forensics labs. A teacher from a high school math and science program leads math activities and students take online course in a range of subjects.

“In addition to core academic classes, we try to hit on personal qualities,” said Jagga Rent, the academy director.

Partner organizations like the Social Health Association provide lessons on life skills, such as bullying prevention, and the Community Health Network brought in doctors to teach the students about healthy lifestyles.

The academy’s operating budget is approximately $130,000, according to Cassandra Anderson, the summer academy’s director of programs. To keep the cost low and provide scholarships to students who need them, 100 Black Men depends on funders. The academy also keeps track of the academic achievements of their students to measure their progress.

The summer academy, which has existed in some form for more than 30 years, currently operates in only one location, but 100 Black Men hopes to eventually expand it to other parts of the city, Anderson said.

Tiffany Johnson found out about the academy from her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. She has enjoyed the focus on academics and safety by staff.

“It was important to me and my husband to have my daughter in a program over the summer that was not only fun, but was educational,” Johnson said. Johnson has chaperoned some of the program’s field trips this summer, including trips to go swimming at Brookside Park.

The program was open to community partners on Thursday as part of a series of Education Bus Tours, hosted by Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization that pushes educational change. Community members were greeted by students, who high-fived them, as they made their way into the building, before touring the facility and observing classrooms in action.

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