It may still be chilly outside, but that’s not stopping school districts from planning for summer. Some districts that want to increase their summer offerings are stretching their dollars through collaborations with cities, corporate funders and foundations.
“Superintendents are beginning to think about what they can do with Proposition 30 funds, what they can do when the economy gets better,” said Katie Brackenridge, senior director of Out-of-School Time (OST) initiatives for Partnership for Children and Youth, a nonprofit that has been promoting summer programs for low-income youth.
The best model, according to Brackenridge, would be for certified teachers to work jointly with after-school staff: the teachers helping after-school staff understand how to promote learning and cognitive development, and after-school staff demonstrating how to make learning fun.
The campaign to encourage more summer programs, called Summer Matters, began in 2008 when many districts, facing budget shortfalls, were eliminating summer offerings. Now that the future looks sunnier, those supporting the need for summer learning are feeling encouraged.
Summer programs are “low-hanging fruit,” according to Esther Kim, communications manager for the Partnership, because they make such a big difference in whether students from low-income communities succeed academically in school.
A growing body of research shows that a long summer without any academic involvement contributes to the achievement gap between students whose parents can afford summer camps, classes and activities and those whose parents cannot. A June 2011 RAND Corporation report titled Making Summer Count summarized research showing that “by the end of the summer, students on average perform one month behind where they left off in the spring.”
RAND researchers found that students from low-income families fall even farther behind and that the learning losses are cumulative and difficult to overcome. The report concluded that efforts to close the achievement gap during the school year alone may not be successful. However, the report noted, to be beneficial, summer programming needs to be high quality and students need to attend regularly.
The report recommended forming partnerships with a range of outside organizations and institutions to sustain a successful summer program. That thought was echoed by speakers from San Francisco, Oakland and Concord at a recent conference in Oakland where more than 200 people representing 24 school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area attended workshops to learn how to expand access to and improve the quality of summer programs for K-12 students through city-district-private collaborations.
“Collaboration has always been the key,” said speaker Terri Porter, after-school coordinator for Mt. Diablo Unified.
School districts, cities and private organizations all contribute to summer programs in the three San Francisco Bay Area cities. In Oakland, the district has encouraged school sites to save some of their federal Title I funds for low-income children. “We ask them to put money behind the moral imperative to provide summer programs,” said Julie McCalmont, coordinator for summer learning for the district. The district will then match those funds and seek additional help from the city and private funders.
Unlike many districts, Oakland kept its summer programs during the budget-tight years of the recession.
The community “can count on the fact that there will be summer programming,” McCalmont said, adding that the offerings have changed over time. “We’re moving away from thinking about summer as remedial intervention,” she said.
All three school districts – Oakland, San Francisco and Mt. Diablo – have based many of their summer offerings on after-school programs run by independent organizations. Typically, the districts will provide additional training for the staff, who sometimes follow an academic morning program with more fun activities in the afternoon.
Although the preferred model involves a combination of certified teachers and after-school staff, most summer programs rely solely on after-school staff or college students to do the work. San Francisco has tackled this problem by offering two free professional development days on how to promote learning while having fun for all summer staff, whether in public or private programs.
Summer also provides an opportunity for staff to try new after-school programs. Concord piloted a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program and an anti-bullying program during the summer.
The speakers emphasized the need to start planning summer programs right now because resources taken for granted during the school year, including facilities, janitorial services and food for the students, all need to be organized for summer.