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University President Lawrence H. Summers joined Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan at the Cambridge Ringe and Latin School (CRLS) last Friday to celebrate Harvard’s most recent contribution to a group of local educational organizations.
The morning’s events—which included singing and dancing presentations from Cambridge school children—centered on the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy, an enrichment program for CRLS students and one of 28 Cambridge educational organizations to receive a total of $500,000 in Harvard grants this summer.
Sullivan said Harvard’s sponsorship of local education reflected a successful cooperation between the University and the city.
“It’s about a mutual beneficial interest. It’s about our future and it’s about the University’s future,” he said. “I want to thank Harvard for stepping to the plate, not just with a cash piece.”
The Summer Academy program, through which 425 CRLS students receive six weeks of academic instruction from veteran teachers and students at the Graduate School of Education, serves both the Cambridge public school system and Harvard’s teacher-training program. The initiative, presently in its third year of operation, began as a five year commitment. But Summers said Harvard’s support for the program will probably extend past 2005.
“I certainly hope that we will not only renew but expand our commitment to the program,” he said.
The Summer Academy has seen considerable success to date, more than doubling in size over the past three years.
Deputy Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Turk said the program’s small-group teaching style offers students an additional opportunity to master academic material and to develop their community skills.
“This is exactly the kind of contact and experience that young people need to have,” she said.
Shortly after arriving at CRLS, Summers and Sullivan toured the school’s campus with an entourage of colleagues, stopping at two Summer Academy classes in progress.
The two leaders walked into a chemistry class playing a mock game show called “Balance This.” The students, Summers and the mayor mulled over an equation for the synthesis of magnesium nitrate.
As students handed their responses to the instructor on folded sheets of paper. Summers walked to the front of the room and discussed applications of chemistry in industry. Sullivan also emphasized the importance of mastering basic chemistry.
“To live and work in Cambridge today, this is the sort of thing you have to know,” he said.
Both leaders reiterated the importance of science several times over the course of the morning.
Their tour of the high school came in the wake of longstanding controversy over the city’s weak record for public education. Low test scores, falling enrollment rates and wide variation in performance have become a black mark on the city’s public education system during an already tumultuous period of administrative turnover.
During a visit to a social studies class where a Cambridge Police Department officer was discussing the rights and responsibilities of a law enforcement officer, Summers touched on some of the decisions related to law enforcement policy that he faced as Secretary of the Treasury.
“Is it ever okay for a law enforcement officer to shoot their firearm with the intent of injuring someone rather than killing them?” he asked.
“Personally,” one of the student answered, “I don’t think you should be shooting them in the first place.”
A fast-moving dialectic between the high school student and the University president ensued, each ricochetting refinements in the conditions of his argument off the other. Sullivan and Anthony D. Gallucio, one of a few Cambridge City Councillors present at the celebration, joined in the discussion until a Summer Academy official interjected. It was time for the ceremony.
The two leaders blew briskly through the school’s empty hallways, chatting about their experience in the classrooms, and took their seats at the lunch tables of the school’s Media Cafeteria, joining almost 50 other guests. A pair of students serenaded the audience with an original composition. A group of young step dancers followed, performing a coordinated routine and a choreographed dance to a bumptious recording from the popular band *NSync.
Taking the microphone, Sullivan discussed the city’s progress in overcoming its educational weaknesses. He focused on Cambridge’s recent success in boosting literacy among its public-school students.
“When we look at national literacy rates, Cambridge is a city that’s climbing,” he said.
Shouting across the cafeteria when his microphone failed, Summers also extolled local literacy efforts by citing a portion of Harvard’s grant designated to purchase books for nine local children’s organizations.
“Of the $500,000 in gifts we are providing, the piece I am most excited about is the $9,000 for books,” he said.
The University president also looked toward the future. Citing Grutter v. Bollinger—the recent Supreme Court decision which upheld affirmative action with the belief that it would be unnecessary in 25 years—Summers said he looked forward to the possibility of affirmative action being unnecessary in Cambridge.
“I look forward to the day 25 years from now when students will be able to compete for admission to universities like Harvard on an equal basis,” he said. “The children who Harvard will be admitting 25 years from now will be born in this community in just a few years, and we have to be ready.”
Summers said the University’s support for Cambridge educational programs is a realization of its educational mission rather than an act of charity.
“No one in Cambridge should ever suppose that what Harvard does in working with the city is an act of charity,” he said. “Harvard as an institution is dedicated to education, and that means we need to be dedicated to education on every level.”
—Staff writer Nathan J. Heller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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