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School Practices that Work: Algebra Summer Bridge Program Breaks Barriers

In Philadelphia, one critical challenge in K-12 education that has persisted for years is a lack of access to advanced math courses, particularly for students of color. This disparity often creates unequal access to opportunities and limits future prospects of students.

To address this issue, the African American Charter School Coalition – a coalition founded to increase collaboration between the Black-run charter schools in the city – created an Algebra 1 Summer Bridge Program for rising 8th graders across five schools.

“At its core, this program is about equity and opportunity,” said Elevate 215 Senior Program Officer Letisha Laws. “It's about recognizing the potential in every student and giving them the support they need to thrive. We understand that algebra is a gateway to future success, and our goal is to ensure that these students are not denied that opportunity because of their circumstances.”

Many students of color enter high school without exposure to algebra, a course that lays the foundation for higher-level math and opens doors to various academic and career paths. The Algebra 1 Summer Bridge Program recognizes this gap and aims to enhance students’ fundamental math skills while ensuring they have a robust understanding of fractions, percentages, and decimals – all essential components for a successful start in algebra.

The program’s overarching goal is to prepare students for the challenges of algebra, a class typically reserved for high school. With selection criteria based on math grades, diagnostic assessments, and teacher recommendations, this past summer the program served 53 motivated students from Alliance for Progress Charter School, Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia, Global Leadership Academy West, Global Leadership Academy Southwest, and Keystone Academy Charter School.

"[Because of] the program this summer, I feel ready to tackle 8th grade." shared Simeon Williams, Boys' Latin student. "And I know that I will have more high school options to choose from, and I will do well in algebra because of what I learned.”

Over the course of four and a half weeks, students engaged in intensive learning for over three hours each day, with a structured curriculum that included advisory sessions, direct instruction, small group interactions, and independent practice. The standards covered ranged from applying properties of operations to solving real-world problems using algebraic and graphical representations. The impact of the program on the participating students was profound. They unanimously described the experience as beneficial and more challenging than their regular coursework.

"I am able to dive deep into the content and really take my time learning new concepts," shared Al-Hasan Attaher, Global Leadership Academy Southwest student, "and I am able to learn things that I was not exposed to during the regular school year."

The program broaden horizons by introducing students to a wide range of post-secondary opportunities, fostering new friendships across schools, and boosting their confidence in math. Additionally, the structured small-group setting empowered students to ask questions freely and go deeper into the subject matter.

"I felt comfortable letting my teacher know that I didn't understand something," added Zaaki Johnson, Global Leadership West Academy Student. "And I was given the time and space to seek help and figure things out."

As a result of engaging in high-quality instruction and getting the individualized support they needed, students were able to increase their content knowledge and overall confidence.

  • Three participating schools had 100% of their students score at an 8th-grade level or beyond on the algebra-aligned standards on the iReady post-assessment. 
  • Students from all five schools showed notable growth after participating in the 23-day programming. 
  • 100% of Global Leadership Academy West and Keystone Academy students showed one year of growth. 
  • 100% of students from Alliance, 83% of students from Global Leadership Academy Southwest, and 67% of Boys’ Latin students demonstrated two years of growth.

The impact of the Algebra 1 Summer Bridge Program extended beyond the summer months. Participating students were better equipped to tackle algebra in 8th grade, thereby expanding their high school and post-secondary opportunities. Program leaders believe that the benefits students gained from this experience will have a lasting impact on their educational journey.