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K-12 Education

Summer Is More Than A Vacation

The carefree days of summer are a ritual for children in our country, where school and structured learning become a distant memory. But this way of thinking about summer creates a lost opportunity to improve their educational trajectory. If our children are to gain the skills, knowledge, and experiences needed to succeed in the 21st century, we must rethink our concepts of “where,” “when,” and “how” we can best prepare our students academically, socially, and emotionally for the upcoming school year.   

On the 2016-17 M-Step exam, only 15 percent of Detroit’s third graders tested proficient in reading. This means that the great majority of our students are unable to read at grade level.  There are a variety of indicators which contribute to this phenomenon — one of which challenges our traditional thoughts of what summer should be about.

During the summer season, students tend to lose the learnings gained the previous school year. This phenomenon, known as summer learning loss, summer setback, or summer slide, hits all youth, but is compounded for those living in poverty. On average, children in poverty lose 2-3 months of learning every summer. The National Summer Learning Association, states that, “the cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: by the fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers.”

Detroit is stepping up

Detroit’s commitment to summer learning is seen in summer employment, numerous expanded learning opportunities, camps, and youth sports.  These are just a few of the ways our city delivers these meaningful experiences.  While 100 percent engagement is the goal, growing awareness of the existing opportunities is a first step to increase access to all Detroit youth, continuing their learning during this important time in their development.

Efforts are underway in Detroit to promote these critical pieces of year-round learning across the city, including:

Detroit Summer Fun Centers: a partnership between the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department and Detroit Public Schools Community District, the centers will provide a safe environment for Detroit students to engage in recreational and academic activities at 12 locations across the city.

Summer Spark: Supported by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, this campaign is growing awareness of the numerous expanded learning opportunities available to youth and families across the region. Summer Spark’s online tool can help locate a program in your area based on your child’s interest and age, budget, and more.

These two initiatives are also joined by numerous neighborhood-run summer programs focused on engaging the youth in their community. Most importantly, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of all that is available for our children, youth and families.

Detroit can become a place where learning happens all around, all year. In order to do so, our beliefs about how, when and where learning occurs must shift. Other cities like Boston have adopted a year-long education strategy with the explicit goal of creating meaningful learning opportunities that engage students inside the classroom as well as out in the community. Through increased collaboration and awareness, we can support our children, youth, and families to expand their learning beyond school walls and calendars.

The Skillman Foundation and our Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children recognizes summer learning as a key component to expanding year-round learning opportunities available to our youth.

So what do you think? What ideas do you have to expand year round learning opportunities to our youth?  What is happening on your side of town that has shown to improve literacy for Detroit youth? We want to know the great things that are happening in this area. Post your thoughts below and share on social media using #KeepKidsLearning.

Terry Whitfield

Strategy lead for afterschool, including advisory support to other afterschool efforts. Focus areas include afterschool programming, community organizing, and family supports

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