Some students at West Gresham and Hollydale elementary schools can get free summer school through a program run by Gresham United Methodist Church.

“We hope this will help stop the summer learning slide and assist some students who might be food insecure over the summer,” said the Rev. Dr. Steven Lewis, pastor of Gresham United Methodist Church.

Students get free breakfast and lunch, transportation, instruction and lots of summer fun, including use of the church-owned bounce house.

Lewis is quick to point out there is no religious component to the July session and the church is not trying to recruit members.

“This is not vacation bible school,” he said.

This is the second year for the program. Last year it was only available to students from Hollydale. But it was so successful that West Gresham was added for this summer.

“It’s awesome,” said Hollydale Principal Debra James. “It was a great match for our kids.”

James visited the program last summer and found “the kids were excited and happy to be there.”

James and the Hollydale staff select students who would benefit from the program.

“We got super-positive reports from our families,” she said.

James said the summer program staff worked with the school to make sure the curriculum meshed with what the kids were learning during the school year. “It is not the same as the regular curriculum during the school year. But, they do math and reading and it helps the students to not regress over the summer.”

Lewis agrees. It is academic, “but in a fun way. We’re not school. We don’t have to test anyone and it is only four mornings a week.”

The program is for children entering first- through fifth- grade and runs half-day Monday through Thursdays in July.

A school bus picks up the children who will get breakfast at 8:45 a.m. and will be returned home after lunch at 12:30 p.m.

Last year the program served 38 students and Lewis hopes for 60 to 70 kids this July.

Lewis, a former educator himself, runs the summer school with volunteers from the church and 11 paid interns from a Methodist service program. He has an emotional tie to the program he started.

“I grew up poor. My mom and dad didn’t go to high school.” And, he said, as a congregation, which is peppered with retired educators, “education is big for us. So it made sense to look at education. And I don’t think kids should go hungry. It is a personal motivation of mine.”

The church already had a connection with Hollydale because it does a Backpack Buddies program, which provides food for students over the weekends.

Said Principal James: “The kids said they loved summer school and wondered when they could go back.”