Seattle Parks makes strides in student learning

Parks Academy of Learning students at Mercer Middle School


School may be out, but the Parks Academy of Learning is in full swing.

The Parks Academy of Learning operates in six middle schools and one elementary school throughout Seattle Public Schools. It is a program to assist students who are below state standards on reading and math assessments, who are not passing core courses and/or who are part of the immigrant, refugee, free-and-reduced-lunch or English Language Learners populations.

Both the middle school and elementary programs include recreation and enrichment activities in addition to weekly learning field trips. The programs have specific measureable outcomes determined by the City of Seattle’s Office for Education regarding student enrollment, attendance and growth in reading and math scores.

Seattle Parks and Recreation Community Learning Centers (CLC) Director Desiree Tabares manages the program at Mercer Middle School. She monitors students throughout the school year and recruits the students who she thinks would benefit the most from the summer academy.

Because the student group is much smaller, Tabares said staff are able to develop summer curriculum that targets individual student needs and be more intentional with goal setting and planning.

Students construct model cars in a science enrichment course at Mercer Middle School.

“With only 120 kids, we can catch things that might fall through the cracks when we have 1,000 students to look after,” she said.

A student at Mercer Middle School, an eighth grader named Kiki, has attended the Parks Learning Academy for two years.

Kiki came to Mercer Middle School in sixth grade with a Measure of Student Progress Level 1 in math and Level 2 in reading and writing. Both levels are below state standard. Kiki attended the summer learning program after her fifth and sixth grade years. She had at least a five-point gain on her Measures of Academic Progress scores in reading. Now she is at a Level 3 in Math and a high Level 2 in reading.

Another student named John was five months behind in reading in his reading level at the end of first grade. In summer 2012, he participated in the Northgate Parks Academy of Learning and began second grade reading at grade level.

Despite the fact that the program kicks off at the beginning of summer, Tabares said the students are eager to attend.

“A lot of kids are bored in the summer, and we make it fun for them,” she said.

The Mercer Middle School program is led by four certified teachers, additional middle school staff and high school volunteers.

“I hire really engaging, energetic people to work in the summer,” Tabares said. “They get involved and play with the kids. It’s hard to tell them all apart sometimes.”

The program is free for all students. It is primarily funded through the Families and Education Levy with additional support from a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Parks general fund. The students can be bussed to the schools as needed and are served breakfast and lunch.

For more information about Seattle Parks Community Learning Centers, please visit