The National Civic League recently named 14 communities “All-America Cities” because of their ambitious plans to boost student achievement. Two common themes stood out: the prioritization of summer learning and public-private partnerships.
Bravo, All-America Cities.
Summer learning – or, rather, a lack thereof – represents a persistent drain on student achievement. As great as schools can be, if students don’t engage in structured learning activities in the summer, they lose skills and start the new school year farther behind.
Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) is proud to partner with the school districts in two of these cities – Baltimore, Md. and Springfield, Mass. – to deliver world-class summer learning experiences to the children who need them most. It’s not easy – if it were, more than 25% of our nation’s children would be engaged in summer learning. But to help other communities launch their own ambitious programs, we have drawn up a blueprint for transforming summer learning loss into summer learning gains. Here are some of our main tips:
Define a Clear Vision and Achievable Goals
Summer learning must produce meaningful and measurable outcomes. The days when “success” meant simply showing up are over. BELL worked with leaders in Baltimore and Springfield to set goals for number of students enrolled, daily attendance, and academic growth. We set goals for the types and amount of time students engage in hands-on enrichment activities and field trips. We measure success. And we communicate outcomes and lessons learned to all involved parties.
High-quality summer learning is not free. Teachers and curricula and food and field trips cost money. But it doesn’t necessarily require more funding. Many schools and districts already have funding for summer school, intervention programs, and expanded learning activities. Many offer some form of a summer feeding program for the school community. And many donors support the summer learning efforts of schools and community organizations. When these types of resources are aligned and combined, everyone wins. Students participate in higher quality programs, community organizations play a role, and schools achieve greater outcomes. In Baltimore, BELL is combining funding from Baltimore City Schools, the National Summer Learning Association’s Smarter Summers initiative, Open Society Foundations, the Weinberg Foundation, and others to provide a full-day, five-week program for students. Aligning resources keeps costs of running the program down for schools and allows it to be free for students and families.
There’s a ton of talent available in the summer. Teachers are free to teach, college students could use classroom experience and seasonal jobs, AmeriCorps members, paraprofessionals and other school-based staff are eager to contribute. Identifying great talent and managing program delivery is the lynchpin in any great summer learning initiative. Across Baltimore and Springfield, BELL recruited and hired more than 250 public school teachers, paraprofessionals, college students, and community educators to deliver the BELL Summer experience for students.
Mobilize the Community
Summer is a great opportunity to bring the classroom into the community, and the community into the classroom. Museums, universities, and parks all provide great opportunities for learning – and they are often free for student groups. Volunteers, community leaders, and arts and cultural organizations can be called upon to further enrich summer learning and tighten bonds within the school community. From Port Discovery and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to Dinosaur Park and Springfield College in Springfield, students in Baltimore and Springfield are learning a lot outside of the classroom, and having fun at the same time.
Resources are finite and some students need access to summer learning more than others. That’s why it is important for communities to focus summer learning activities on specific student needs. A priority in Springfield is to provide summer learning experiences to help students transition from middle school to high school. A priority in Baltimore is to provide summer learning experiences for students who struggled on state tests. Around 2,000 students across these two cities are participating in BELL Summer, while thousands more participate in other high-quality summer learning experiences delivered through other community partnerships.
This public-private partnership approach works. Last year, students participating in BELL Summer in Baltimore and Springfield were more than a year behind grade level, and they made up almost half of their proficiency gap, according to standardized test results. Moreover, research shows that such an approach helps prepare students to succeed in the fall, and gets parents more involved.
Summer learning success in Baltimore and Springfield has a lot do to with the willingness and ability of the education community in these cities to work together to achieve a common goal. Congratulations, again, to all who make great summer learning possible in Baltimore and Springfield, and in All-America Cities from coast to coast.
Tiffany Cooper Gueye, Ph.D., is the CEO of BELL. She began with BELL in 1998 and as former Chief Operating Officer, Field Operations, led all program development, service delivery, assessment and evaluation activities, and policy-related initiatives. Through her leadership, BELL’s programs and evaluation methods have been nationally recognized as best practices in out-of-school time programming (OST), and she is regarded as an authority on OST learning, measurement, and evaluation.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.