Summer Boost coordinator Kate Points and student Aidon Dobson chat about classroom work on a recent day. He is one of more than 100 students taking part in the RSU 21 Summer Boost program. Courtesy Photo/RSU 21

KENNEBUNK – Tracy Shaw knew her grandson Aidon Dobson was a bit behind as he finished grade 7  at Middle School of the Kennebunks.

“We knew he needed a bit more one-on-one time,” coming out of the pandemic, said Shaw of the 13-year-old who has been with his grandparents for the past 18 months.

Elizabeth Sawtelle said her daughter Vivian struggled with kindergarten – and had told a teacher that “school is not my thing.”

Now, through a relatively new summer program, both are doing well.

Summer Boost, RSU 21’s intensive five week math and reading progam winds down Aug. 11. Here students prepare to listen during one recent session. Courtesy Photo/RSU 21

The two students are among more than 100 young people at Regional School Unit 21 who have been attending Summer Boost, a two-year-old program that concentrates on math and reading for students in kindergarten through grade 8. There is also a program for high school students.

Summer Boost is an intensive program, targeting and accelerating learning, and began in the summer of 2021, instituted by Superintendent Terri Cooper.


“The pandemic forced us to offer hybrid and/or remote learning, and that created some academic gaps for some students,” Cooper said. “Even in a normal year, some students are going to struggle. When I assumed the position of superintendent, one of my main areas of focus was a summer-school program, and, with the help of committed educators, we have created a well-thought-out program that is garnering tangible results.”

It is a skills-based program, where the student-teacher ratio is 12 to 1; and one-one-one where it needs to be, said Nicole Kaszubinski, the district’s education recovery officer. Teachers identify areas where skills need a boost, look at student scores, and in collaboration with building principals, education interventionists and others, invite students to attend.

Summer Boost is a five-week morning program, four days a week and winds down Aug. 11. Students are in class for about two hours of math, have a break, and then go on to about two hours of reading each day.

The high school program is a bit different – students  have the opportunity to accrue credits they need to graduate or successfully complete a course, and may attend remotely.

Kaszubinski said she had a middle school Summer Boost student tell her “I thought this was going to be awful, but I’m really liking it.” she said.

Student Joshua Eaton and RSU 21 Education Recovery Officer Nicole Kaszubinski discuss a point on a recent Summer Boost day. The program has more than 100 students this summer and will wind down Aug. 11. Courtesy Photo/RSU 21

“I walk down the halls and I hear students engaged,” Kaszubinski said. “It makes my heart smile.”


“For most educators, students, and parents, the words “summer school” have some negative connotations,” said Cooper. ” We created a positive, no-cost to families, summer learning program that is designed to support students by building positive relationships and creating opportunities for exploration that put and/or keep students on track for their future academic, social, and emotional success in a thriving environment.”

Shaw said Aidon was new to the middle school in the fall of 2021 and new to the district. She said the staff was very supportive, and embraced her grandson from his first moments at his new school.

As for Summer Boost, Shaw said it was an opportunity Aidon needed. Faculty at Middle School of the Kennebunks explained the program, and noted it focused on math and reading.

“I think junior high in general is tough for kids, and the extra attention to detail really makes a big difference, especially coming out of the pandemic,” said Shaw. “With math, we’re pretty excited, and in the third week (of the program) he’s now at a pre-algebra level, and his reading has kicked back up. We’re very pleased with the Summer Boost program.”

Assistant Superintendent Anita Bernhardt said educators often talk about “summer slide,” where students tend to lose a bit of what they learned in the two month stretch from the traditional end of the school year to the beginning of the new term in September. Summer Boost allows students to start school again in the fall in a stronger position, she said.

“This program is really concentrated and focused,” said Bernhardt, helping students start the year off successfully, by building their skills. “It’s a good model.”

Sawtelle said she was a bit apprehensive about sending Vivian to Summer Boost at first, because the little girl was giving her a bit of push back. “I was afraid it would set her back further and she’d hate school,” said Sawtelle. She said she made her daughter’s boost teacher aware of that possibility, and when she  came out to greet Vivian  on the first day, gave her a hug and the two walked hand-in-hand into the classroom.

“She’s had a great experience since that day,” said Sawtelle.

“Because she’s done well and had such a great experience, she’s (going to) first grade,” said Sawtelle, who said she’d contemplated holding her back a year. “She’s happy to be there every day.”

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