The Gesu School
Philadelphia, Pa.
Grant: $41,000; Funded 2016-17

Problem: Nourishing Academically Hungry, Inner-City Students

Gesu School serves 450 PreK-8 students from the most impoverished neighborhoods in Philadelphia, in a community surrounded by some of the city’s highest poverty and crime rates. Gesu was established in 1993 as an independent Catholic school when its Jesuit-founded parish closed its doors after 105 years in North Philadelphia. The school strives, with selective admissions, to provide a quality, innovative education for its neighbor children to empower them to break the cycle of poverty and violence. The school has demonstrated success in structuring a solid education for all of its students, but especially for those who struggle with its strong core curriculum. Extensive remedial programs, resource rooms, counselors, a social worker, and summer camps figure prominently in these extended efforts. Yet, Gesu wanted to do more. Its leaders wanted to raise the sights of another segment of its students — the younger, higher-performing girls and boys — with academic programming that would stretch the limits of their ability and creativity as well as stem any chance of summer learning loss commonly experienced by students attending inner-city schools.

Solution: Creating a Satisfying Summer and School-Year Menu

Gesu School leaders introduced the Youngest Scholars Program in 2008 to provide high-achieving students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades with in-depth academic programming that begins in a five-week summer session and continues in after-school sessions throughout the year. Every year, the top 10 to 15 second-graders are selected for invitation to the program. Students focus on a themed curriculum — such as the Rainforest, Ocean Life, the Olympics — accompanied by a comprehensive set of skills-based activities organized by the program director, Gesu teachers, and volunteers. The curriculum uses Common Core state standards as well as additional in-depth exercises measuring student response to the program theme. Daily work covers cross-curricular writing selections, research topics, connections to math and science through integrated learning methods, and reading passages from fiction and nonfiction theme-based chapter books and novels. Field trips and team-building tasks further build on the chosen theme. The rigorous standards purposely emphasize depth rather than breadth. This summer programming leads into school-year reading groups, after-school STEM-related programming (science, technology, engineering, math) through Rosemont School of the Holy Child, and after-school literacy, athletic, and culture-based programs built on concepts introduced in the summer.

Results: Enjoying the Outcome All Year

The Youngest Scholars Program that began in 2008 with 20 students now serves upward of 35. The summer 2016 theme, “Philadelphia: Then and Now,” challenged students with research tasks on the city’s history and on important Philadelphians such as Benjamin Franklin and William Penn. Students completed theme-based trips to the Franklin Institute, The National Liberty Museum, Franklin Post Office, the Liberty Bell, and The National Constitution Center. Evaluations of student achievement following the summer session revealed scores in the exceeds goals, meets goals, and developing appropriately ranges. No student needed improvement. Twice-per-week after-school reading assignments further focused on vocabulary exercises, literary circles, critical thinking, and year-end projects. The 2016 Youngest Scholars Program proved to be highly effective in engaging Gesu’s brightest young students, providing them with scholarly opportunities that supplement the school’s standard curriculum and creating a ripple effect on in-school performance — as measured by report card scores in reading, effort and study skills, and personal and social growth — throughout the 2016-17 academic year.