“Coming to Harvard-Kent this summer has done so much for me,” said Ritaj Essaouabi, an incoming fourth grader who attends the Boston public school in Charlestown. “I read, I do math - and math is really something I need to work on. I see my friends and make new ones, and it’s so fun, too. I’m so glad I come here.” 

For students like Ritaj, the attention given to her and more than 250 other students in a summer program run by the MGH Institute comes from speech-language pathology students and faculty. In the five years the Institute has operated the program – in collaboration with school leaders including principal Mark Silva – 268 students have been supported through the program, with each receiving a total of 75 hours of reading instruction throughout summer, as well as math instruction and social-emotional skill training.

This summer program – known as SPLASH: Summer Program in Literacy and Scholarship at Harvard-Kent – is focused on providing full-day programming with academics in the morning and community-based activities in the afternoon like sailing, dancing, and art. Both breakfast and lunch are provided. The program goes beyond a focus on ’the reader’ to support the “whole child”. Instruction on mindfulness, health, and safety is even provided by IHP nursing graduate students in addition to the regular activities the students take part in.

Given that Harvard-Kent has one of the highest rates of economically disadvantaged students and one of the highest rates of English learners in Boston, this extra attention is invaluable for improving pupils’ learning outcomes and keeping them on track with their peers. What’s more, summer learning loss, also known as the “summer slump,” is a major concern for elementary students, making this program even more important. This phenomenon has been known to widen achievement gaps and cost the average student 17-34% of the prior year’s learnings. 

“Summer vacation can offer a valuable opportunity to foster reading in all students, and in particular, vulnerable students who may need extra support and resources to advance their literacy skills,” shared Joanna Christodoulou, Associate Professor and Director of the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Lab at the IHP.

“Research has shown that the summer months and especially the COVID school interruptions have elevated risk for reading slowdown, especially for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, earlier elementary school grades, or those enrolled in special education. We’re so glad we can offer this program to counter that potential risk and help reading flourish.”

In addition to the students attending the program, IHP students have benefited greatly. Since the program began in 2017, more than 100 IHP students have spent thousands of hours helping children at the school. 

“Working in the classroom has allowed me to get a school-based perspective on the role of an SLP,” said Danielle Cartier, CSD ’23, taking a break from working with Ritaj on her reading skills. “Tailoring the assignments to each student and his or her needs has shown me what I’d be doing in a classroom day-to-day in my career.” 

Christodoulou speaks highly of the program and the impact it has had on all involved, thus far. She has high hopes for the future, as well. 

“We hope this partnership between Harvard Kent and the BEAM Lab showcases what’s possible with community-research partnerships,” she said.

“The way this program has already impacted the families in our neighborhood has been amazing to see, which is a testament to the hard work of HK students and teachers, and IHP graduate students and supervisors. Its emphasis on fostering reading progress during the summer sets up students to enter the new school year with stronger skills and confidence which proves critical to developing avid, resilient learners.” 

SPLASH: Summer Program in Literacy and Scholarship at Harvard-Kent will be back next summer to welcome even more IHP students and elementary students for a learning experience like no other. 



Danielle Cartier, CSD ’23 served as a student clinician in the 3rd grade classroom at the Harvard Kent summer program this year
Danielle Cartier, CSD ’23 served as a student clinician in the 3rd grade classroom at the Harvard Kent summer program this year.