Gov. Charlie Baker announced more than $70 million for summer learning programs Friday morning in Canton, Massachusetts. He also fielded questions about the state's coronavirus response as the outdoor mask mandate expires.
"We are going to have to put the shoulder to the wheel on a pretty regular basis over the next few years to try to make up for all the the last learning time and all the dislocation and especially the social isolation that came with COVID," Baker said Friday.
Aimed at helping students who have been impacted by a year of remote and hybrid learning, Baker announced a suite of expanded summer learning opportunities after touring Galvin Middle School, where school officials are planning to boost learning opportunities for students this summer.
"After a year of so much remote and hybrid learning, we think it's crucial to give people these learning opportunities and to give kids a chance to participate them participate in them across Massachusetts," Baker said. "While we obviously can't make up for all the days that have been lost to the classroom celebrations that have been missed, we can make up for some of the missed learning opportunities."
"Those funds are critical for this community and this YMCA to be able to help those communities and those kids who are in need of these organizations," said Julio Acero with the YMCA of Central Massachusetts.
And it will be an enhanced experience for kids – with recreation-based academic programs, and acceleration academies for early literacy, math, and college prep.
"High-yield learning activities, STEM projects, the arts, everything that will really assist in making sure that we address unfinished learning," said Executive Director Liz Hamilton of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester.
Youth development centers like the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA will supplement school district-based programs so every child has a chance to learn and grow this summer.
"It's really about collaboration — they're all of our kids and we want to make sure every single one of them gets the support they need."
The efforts will offer a "full menu of options," for school districts and community organizations to choose from, according to Baker, to offer students at every grade level opportunities to take part in a mix of academic and recreational programs.
The package of programs will be paid for through a combination of state and federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Response discretionary funding.
The programs include Acceleration Academies, grants for small classes that work on one subject, Summer School Matching Grants, four to six week-long programs with academic and recreational activities and Summer Acceleration to College, which provides recent graduates with free credit-bearing math and English courses.
All middle schools in the Bay State were required to return to full time in-person learning this week. Elementary schools returned on April 5, and high schools will be required to return by May 17.
The briefing came a day after Baker said Massachusetts could fully reopen sooner than his proposed date of Aug. 1 if residents continue to get vaccinated against coronavirus at the current rate. Additionally, people can now take off their masks outdoors in Massachusetts, provided they can maintain social distance.
All business restrictions and industries are slated to reopen on Aug. 1 under a series of measures announced earlier this week aimed at reopening the state's economy. But Baker said he would move faster if residents keep getting vaccinated at this pace.
"If the people of Massachusetts continue to be as aggressive and as enthusiastic about getting vaccinated as they've been, we may have the ability to do that sooner," Baker said Thursday.
Massachusetts is currently one of the only states in which two-thirds of the adult population has had at least one dose, Baker said Friday.
"We do have some good news in Massachusetts on vaccinations," Baker said. "We're number one in the country in the percentage of our population that's been first dosed and fully dosed among all states that have more than five million people."
The likelihood of getting a second dose in Massachusetts is "unbelievably high," Baker added. North of 99% of residents who get a first dose get a second dose, Baker said.
The state has "finally" gotten to the point where vaccination appointments are more readily available, according to Baker, with more than 800 sites across Massachusetts.
Baker encouraged all residents to get vaccinated after he got his second dose on Wednesday. He cited "overwhelming evidence," that vaccines work.
"Twenty-four hours after I got it, I ached all over. I had chills. I didn't have a temperature and it was all in all a pretty crummy day. And by the end of the day, I felt better. And two weeks from now I will be part of the fully vaccinated part of the Commonwealth and I urge everybody in Massachusetts to go get vaccinated," he said.
"That is the best, fastest and best thing you can do for yourself, do for your family, do for your community. Go get vaccinated," Baker said.