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What They Did on Their Summer Vacation: UCLA Partnership with Mann Middle School Launched with Enrichment Program

When asked what they liked best about taking part in the Horace Mann Middle School- UCLA Summer Institute, middle school students from the school’s South Los Angeles neighborhood had a variety of answers.

“My favorite classes were art, Chinese language class, leadership class, and science,” said sixth grader Kamora Jones. “I liked the camp a lot – I wasn’t with my family, so I had to be my own person and had to do things for myself. We learned about nature. There were no city lights or anything at night, we would see the beautiful stars.”

Students from the Mann-UCLA Summer Institute and the UCLA Community School in Koreatown enjoy sailing on Big Bear Lake.

“I liked how we met people from other schools and worked with the UCLA students as our counselors,” said eighth grader Amani Shahid. “We had archery and hiking, and when we went on the nature walk we saw a gorgeous view and the sunrise.”

“At camp, we didn’t have to use electronics to get through life; we just used the world around us,” said eighth grader Akili Woods. “I liked being here with my friends and learning, instead of staying home doing nothing.”

From June 21-August 5, the Horace Mann-UCLA Summer Institute provided research-based experiences developed by professional learning partners from UCLA’s Center X. It also included an entire week away at UCLA’s UniCamp in Big Bear, a powerful experience for the Mann kids, many of who had never camped before. Most significantly, the Summer Institute was not only a fun time for students but an opportunity to strengthen their academic learning, and set the stage for the first phase of the partnership between Mann and UCLA.

Christine Shen, director of the UCLA Community Schools Initiative, reached out with personal phone calls to the families of the 400 students in Mann’s immediate service area to recruit students and to invite them to take part in the Summer Institute. She also visited Mann’s feeder elementary schools, spoke with teachers and administrators, hosted family meetings, and participated in the schools’ open house events to recruit incoming sixth graders to Mann – a school that has seen declining enrollment in the last five years.

“When I was at the school sites, I learned that parents want more for their kids,” said Shen. “It is so very clear to me that we have to find ways to connect with the parents and include them in creating a Mann school that they envision.”

The Mann-UCLA Summer Institute included a field trip to the Getty Center.

The Summer Institute was an opportunity to demonstrate to the Mann community that the school is committed to offering quality programs and to providing students with many enrichment experiences. The institute offered a robust complement of classes, including math, reading, and writing skills through the LAUSD CORE Waiver Program and additional classes designed by UCLA’s subject matter project experts at Center X. UCLA’s Visual and Performing Arts Education Program guided students through art projects that supported social and emotional development, and the UCLA Confucius Institute provided the opportunity to explore Chinese art, culture, language and martial arts. In the fifth week of the Summer Institute, the students enjoyed a week at UniCamp, and on the last day, they took a field trip to the UCLA campus.

Although the Summer Institute was in session from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – longer than an average school day – the middle schoolers persevered, buoyed by the promise of summer camp and the safe and productive environment that being at Mann provided. Shen said that the experience of the Summer Institute has created a new consciousness among Mann students. Zo Anthony Shay, coordinator, UCLA Community Schools Initiative, who served as support staff for the Summer Institute, witnessed the transformation that took place.

UCLA created an experience for students that wasn’t just summer school but an enrichment program that focused on them as human beings as well as on their classes,” he said. “I honestly think that it’s going to help shift the culture at this school. I’ve seen the kids change from when they first came here, in their classroom behavior, willingness to participate and learn, and their overall behavior and attitude toward adults and each other.”

Academics were incorporated into the activities at UCLA's UniCamp, including a lesson using estimation skills to calculate the circumference of a tree. Photo by Sarah Bang

Shay said that he is hopeful that the presence and effect of caring adults working in tandem with the faculty will last at Mann throughout the school year.

“I told them, ‘I’ll be here during the school year, so I know you can be an amazing student and do great work,’” he said. “It’s important to have additional adults who are here to support their personal growth.”

Shen said she hopes that the students who experienced the Horace Mann-UCLA Summer Institute will be also able to influence their peers with their success of their experiences this summer, and hopes to continue the summer program over the next few years in order to support school pride.

“We have to do a lot more programming in order to build access to additional growth opportunities and enriching experiences for the community,” she said.

That programming will include wraparound services for parents and families including conflict resolution classes and additional services such as counseling and mentoring. Shen also plans to work with Horace Mann MS to conduct outreach to feeder elementary schools and support the school’s administration, staff, and students in an ongoing recruitment campaign. For now, UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and other stakeholders in the Horace Mann-UCLA partnership are beginning a new school year with optimism and enthusiasm.

UniCamp counselors Hugo Vega and Lauren Phinney enjoy sailing with young campers on Big Bear Lake.

“UCLA is in the right place; I totally believe that with every fiber of my being,” said Bang. “We’re doing the right thing and we’re very lucky that they trust us, have opened their school and students to us, and want us here.”

“We want the students to feel connected to UCLA as well,” said Shay. “We want Mann kids to know there’s this university rooting for them. They are now part of something larger. There’s a greater chance of them going to college, and the pipeline to higher education is being widened for them – they are really a part of UCLA.”