NORTH ADAMS -- In the midst of summer vacation, Brayton Elementary School is anything but quiet.
Its classrooms are still filled with children who are still engrossed in learning -- peering into microscopes, programming robots and singing about biomes -- a scene that's become the norm during the North Adams Public Schools 21st Century Summer Science Camp.
"This is our third year of a three-year pilot program," co-ordinator Noella Carlow said Wednesday morning. "We've had the summer camp for about nine years now, but in the past it was only run from 8:30 to 12:30 four days a week. With the pilot program, we're able to hold it Monday to Friday, from 8:30 to 2:30."
The school district was one of four chosen by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2011 for the three-year summer learning pilot program, aimed at reducing "learning loss" during the summer vacation. Pilot program funds have also been awarded to school districts in Salisbury, Springfield and Wareham.
This summer, the city has 360 children, ranging from incoming Kindergartners to soon-to-be seventh graders, enrolled in the camp.
Over the course of the six-week program, evaluators from the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at Wellsley College visit the summer camp to gather data, which is then correlated with tests administered before and after the program, interviews with teachers, site coordinators and parents.
"We're all wondering if the data will show less learning loss," she said. "I think if anyone would show it, I think it would be North Adams. We're a demonstration-level school for the 21st Century After School Program. We're a model for other districts."
This summer the district received a $135,000 grant for the program, which Carlow said she used a little differently than in the two previous years.
"We wanted to up the caliber of the program this year and give our teachers some extra support," she said. "Science is always one of those topics elementary school teachers typically find themselves uncomfortable with. We usually do professional development and I buy a lot of support materials -- workbooks, posters and books -- to help support the teachers. But this year, I thought why not see what's out there for outreach."
The change resulted in numerous educators being brought in to teach classes around the theme, "Circle of Life," which focuses on biodiversity. On Wednesday, students in third through sixth grade, were in the middle of a week-long Project BioEYES class being taught by Tracy Nelson, an outreach educator with the University of Pennsylvania-based program.
The program allows children to track zebra fish from the zygote stage through their juvenile phase. Students mate adult fish, collect the eggs and record the changes, ultimately determining which parent the fish inherited their traits from.
"We're counting our fish. They hatched today," Thayne Carlo, 10, said proudly, as he and partner, Aileen Barry, 10, peered into a petri dish with magnifying glasses. Other students, who had completed the count, were examining the tiny fish under microscopes and recording data.
"This is really what it's all about," Carlow said. "During the school year, we have MCAS and other mandates to worry about. But during the summer, it's really creative and you can develop a program the kids will get excited about."
And while they may be learning, the majority of the students don't seem to mind.
"It's really fun," said Yasmine Caesar, 10, who's attended the camp for the last four years. "It's fun. It gives you something to do during the summer. It's better than regular school. You're still learning, but you're learning the fun way."