08/22/2012 08:20 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

PBS NewsHour Profiles Providence School District's Efforts To Reinvent Summer School, Close Academic Gap

In an effort to reduce the academic gap between wealthy and poor students, a Providence, R.H., program is reinventing summer school, PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow reports.

The Summer Scholars Program is a four-week program for middle school students that represents a partnership between the Providence Public School District and 30 local organizations like the zoo, the YMCA and the Audubon Society.

This past summer, the program, which includes transportation and two meals a day, enrolled 716 low-income students at no cost to them. Although the entire operation requires about $1,200 per student, half of the funding comes from private sources, with the rest covered by the school district.

According to the PBS report, sixth, seventh and eighth graders spend two mornings a week in the field with an instructor from a local organization like Save the Bay, and a teacher from the district who oversees that students are practicing skills they struggled with during the school year, and will need to apply in the fall.

Afternoons feature classroom learning, where teachers like Matthew Pierce of Roger Williams Middle School help students understand concepts they were just exposed to in the field.

“You have to work to keep their attention, especially at this middle school to early high school level. They will not — they will just shut down on you if you don't do something fun and get them engaged,” Pierce told Merrow.

According to the report, Providence educators turned to hands-on-learning because they were not satisfied with the results and scores traditional teaching was yielding. District Superintendent Susan Lusi sees the program as a means of leveling the playing field by providing opportunities for middle-class children to engage with education in a fun manner.

“The evaluation shows that students who attended these programs had better engagement in their classes and better grades, particularly in math,” Lusi said, adding that teachers have told her they need to find a way to apply these techniques to teaching and learning year-round.

“I think we have to get better and better at giving kids opportunities to apply their learning in ways that are interesting, as well as informative,” she said.

Watch the full report above.