Op-Ed: Summer Learning Working in Talbot County by Robbie Gill

Many Americans have a wonderful image of summer as a carefree, happy time when “kids can be kids,” and take for granted the prospect of enriching experiences such as summer camps, time with family, and trips to museums, parks, and libraries.

Unfortunately, some youth face anything but idyllic summer months. When the school doors close, many children struggle to access educational opportunities, as well as basic needs such as healthy meals and adequate adult supervision.

For the past three summers the YMCA of Chesapeake and Talbot County Public Schools have partnered to provide a summer learning program designed to combat summer learning loss. All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.

More than half of the achievement gap between lower-and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. Over the course of the first five years of school, a low-income student can fall behind by as much as 3 grade levels as their middle/high income peers. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.

The 2014 comprehensive free summer program engaged 93 students Talbot County students between 1st and 4th grade. School administrators selected the students based upon the greatest need. Of the students:

29 students were African American, 15 were white, 45 were Hispanic, and 4 were of two or more races.
46% of these students were English Language Learners.
16 students received Special Education services.
91% of students qualified for free or reduced meals.

Students were introduced to the (STEM) Science, Technology, Engineering, Math curriculum throughout the morning by TCPS Teachers. After lunch, students transitioned into a robust YMCA summer camping program involving students in arts and crafts, group games, swim lessons and other camp activities.

What were the results of the program? Overwhelmingly positive!

88% of Students increased or maintained their level of reading comprehension.

The program had a profound impact for students who are English Language Learners of whom 43% actually increased their reading levels and 46 % who suffered no summer learning loss. 82 % of these students scored at or above grade level expectations on their September reading assessments.
The group who experienced the greatest impact was the African American population of whom 65.5% increased reading levels and 24 % suffered no documented summer learning reading loss. 55% of these students scored at or above grade level expectations on their September reading assessments.

The YMCA funds this program through its Strong Communities Campaign, raising $25,000 for this program annually.

The Y’s Achievement Gap work builds on our strengths in giving young people the tools and motivation to succeed through a holistic approach to youth development, developing their cognitive, physical and social-emotional well-being. A successful youth development process fulfills children and teens’ innate need to be loved, spiritually grounded, educated, competent, and healthy. The YMCA of the Chesapeake is proud to champion this work in our communities.

Robbie Gill is Executive Director of the YMCA of Chesapeake