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Summer Learning in Community Schools

Eliminating Summer Slide: Summer Learning in Community Schools


While many schools take a well-deserved summer vacation as a time to regroup and rejuvenate, the work of community schools is far from over. In fact, many community schools host summer learning programs as an active combatant to the "summer slide," a well-known and well-researched challenge where students, especially those from high-poverty areas, lose some of the academic gains they have made while school is out over the summer.

Many community schools actively promote and sponsor summer learning programs that are catalyst for ready and engaged students come the fall. Cities such as Des Moines, Iowa; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Tulsa, Oklahoma are mobilizing partners undertaking some great strategies around summer learning.

Des Moines is one year away from implementing a new state third grade retention law that will create a mandatory summer program for third graders not proficient in reading at the end of the school year.   Allyson Vukovich, community partnership coordinator for Des Moines Public Schools, has already witnessed success with the pilot program designed to test the effectiveness of the law in reducing summer slide.

Des Moines Public School District summer programs provide exciting enrichment activities such as the United Way of Des Moines "Summer in the City" events where students are engaged in active and innovative learning, art, physical education, and nutrition activities.  The spoken word poetry workshop is Vukovich’s favorite summer program because it "gives students the ability to open up, and creates a safe space for them through poetry, which is a great way for students to unpack their experiences while working on reading during the summer." Many sites later learning and enrichment opportunities with services students need, free meals to economically disadvantaged students who may not have access to breakfast and lunch during the summer.

Another great example is the summer learning program for 220 students at Lea Community School, hosted by The University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. This summer, students are dedicating the summer to making their minds and bodies healthier, under the theme "Something inside So Strong". Activities include health and nutrition, physical fitness, literacy activities, STEM, and performance arts. Bianca White, director of the University-Assisted Community Schools programs at the Netter Center notes that these programs, "help our schools understand summer learning loss and keeps students on track." Not only does this summer program benefit elementary students, but it also connects to the Netter Center’s "work ready" program, which employs one hundred and sixty high school students to work part time at these summer learning programs or with other community initiatives.

A common misconception is that summer learning programs cannot be implemented without a large budget subsidized by school districts. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, statewide budget cuts have affected the district’s ability to implement summer learning programs including leaving schools open for longer periods during the school day as well as during the summer. However, despite the massive cuts, a few community schools in Tulsa have found ways to stay open a few days a week during the summer with the help and support of community partners. "Our local health department supported us during these times with gardening, cooking and nutrition classes. They also provided support through hosting gym and athletic activities for students to assist with additional health," stated Paige Whalen, program manager for the Center for Community Strategies in Tulsa. "Our major partners were the Tulsa Health Department, helped to create a strong curriculum around our needs, and The Tulsa City Library, which in addition to our programming also provided a mobile reading van for students with an assortment of books, to engage them in summer reading." Despite a lack of access to Tulsa’s public schools during the summer due to a limited budget, students still managed to have substantive programs, including STEM activities and a community tutoring program where teachers and support staff began doing summer home visits to work with students in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Across the nation, summer learning initiatives continue to foster learning for students who would otherwise "slide" behind. Whether it’s adding state legislation in Iowa, combing existing programs, or looking to community partners to find cost saving strategies, community schools find ways to ensure that all students are engaged and ready to learn in the fall.


For more information about summer learning please take a look at our partner spotlight for the National Summer Learning Association, and our resources on summer learning from our website, including several summer learning blogs. 

By Denzel Cummings

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