CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The school year may be over at Park View Middle School in Cranston, but summer learning is just beginning.

This is the first time in two years that summer learning is taking place without pandemic restrictions.

STEM Coordinator Caitlyn Blankenship tells 12 News she’s seen firsthand the evidence of key skills lost during the pandemic in middle schoolers, who are struggling to problem solve, work together and communicate.

“They lost the ability to work in teams during COVID, so they lost those skills of communicating with each other on very simple tasks,” she said.

The United Way Rhode Island’s Summer Learning Initiative is working to reverse that learning loss.

Marlene Guay, who manages the statewide initiative, said the need for it has grown exponentially.

She said 35 communities have applied to participate, but there is only enough funding for five. Cranston was one of the communities that was accepted.

Up to 120 spots opened in each community in March and they were filled in a month, she added.

“For the most part, families are really needing social emotional support,” Guay said. “Our youth have been kind of isolated in the pandemic.”

For 30 hours a week for six weeks, the Summer Learning Initiative gives students the opportunity to learn in fun and out-of-the-box ways.

Though it’s been around since 2012, this summer it’s specifically focused on pandemic learning loss.

“There’s ways to be able to explore and be creative without feeling like they are falling farther and farther behind, which I think a lot of youth are feeling right now because of the pandemic,” Guay said.

At Park View, STEM will be the focus, according to Blankenship.

“My favorite quote that I hear from a lot of our kids and parents is: ‘I want to be a scientist or an engineer when I grow up,'” Blankenship said.

The goal of the initiative is not only to make up for lost learning, but to also renew an excitement for learning.