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School Practices that Work: Algebra Summer Bridge Program Breaks Barriers

In K-12 education in Philadelphia, one critical challenge has persisted for years:  lack of access to advanced math courses, particularly for minority students. 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 Summer Bridge Program for students in 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 minority students 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. he 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 summer the program identified and 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 focus standards range 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 aims to 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 empowers 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 students engaging in high-quality instruction and getting the individualized support they needed, they increased 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. 
  • 67% of Boys’ Latin students demonstrated two years of growth. 
  • 100% of Global Leadership Academy West and Keystone Academy students showed one year of growth. 
  • 100% of students from Alliance demonstrated two years of growth, and 
  • 83% of students from Global Leadership Academy Southwest demonstrated two years of growth.

The impact  of the Alg. 1 Summer BRIDGE Program will extend beyond the summer months. Participating students are now  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. 

"Based on the mathematical discourse students engaged in and watching how they approached the problems during the program, it was clear it enhanced their critical thinking skills," added Widelene Desarmes, Program Officer. "How they saw math and thought about it for about 90% of the students was drastically different from when they entered the program. Most importantly, we saw growth in the algebra and algebraic domain for EVERY student that attended the program."

So what are the broader implications of this program?  Imagine if similar initiatives are implemented across schools throughout the city. Building on the first year of this program by sustaining it with participating schools, and scaling it has  potential to break down barriers, level the playing field, and provide equitable access to advanced math coursework to many more students. By recognizing the transformative power of early algebra education, we can create a brighter future for all students.

The African American Charter School Coalition’s pioneering effort serves as a model, demonstrating how targeted programming can empower students, broaden their post-secondary options, and set them on a trajectory toward success. As we celebrate this achievement, let’s continue to champion initiatives that bridge opportunity  gaps, and pave the way for a more equitable educational landscape citywide.