Kim Garcia works with Jovani (right) and Chris.RoundTable Photos

Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

The McGaw YMCA is one of six YMCAs in the country that has been chosen to pilot the “YMCA Summer Learning Program” to help close the achievement gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle-income families. McGaw Y is operating the six-week program this summer at Oakton Elementary School.
Citing a study, “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap” (2007), the McGaw Y says that by the end of fifth grade, children from lower-income families can be as many as 2.5-3 years behind middle-income children in terms of their academic achievement. “At least two-thirds of this gap is caused by the long summer break,” says the McGaw Y.
“A typical middle-income child, with access to various enrichment activities and with a family that has the opportunity to spend time on reading, will advance about one month in reading level over the summer,” says the McGaw Y’s statement. “But the economically disadvantaged child falls back about two months in reading level over the same period.”
The YMCA Summer Learning Program is designed to address this issue.
Kenzi Huelskoetter, school-age director of the McGaw Y who is overseeing the summer program, told the RoundTable the program uses the “four blocks literacy model” (guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and phonics) that was piloted by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. She said the program in Charlotte had good results.
The program at Oakton serves 32 Oakton students who will be entering first or second grade in the fall. There are two classes, each with one teacher and one aide, all employed by District 65 during the school year. In addition, 12 volunteers are “reading buddies” for the students on Thursdays. Sixteen staff members of the YMCA are “pen pals” with the students during the program.
The morning session consists of 2.5 hours of literacy work, followed by 4.5 hours of enrichment in the afternoon to give the children experiences they would not otherwise have, such as swimming lessons, health education, art and music, science and personal development.
Parents of children in the program are required to pledge to read to their children 20 minutes a day. Parents are also required to attend two workshops that provide tips on how to make literacy part of the home.
The program includes testing at the beginning, middle and end of the session to measure progress. In addition, parents will be surveyed twice to obtain their views. The goal is to increase reading scores and to expose students to positive enrichment, Ms. Huelskoetter told the RoundTable.
“We hope to build a great relationship with District 65,” said Ms. Huelskoetter. “Churchill Daniels [principal of Oakton Elementary School] has been great to work with. We hope the program is successful so we can expand it next year. It’s been great so far.”
Patty Reece, a retired teacher, volunteers with the program. “I’m looking forward to assisting with keeping the children engaged in structured learning activities,” Ms. Reece said. “It’s exciting for the children and the community.”
Bill Geiger, president and CEO of the McGaw Y, said, “The Summer Learning Program is a key element of our commitment as a YMCA to addressing critical community needs, in this case, the achievement gap and early learning. This program is a true collaboration among families, teachers, volunteers, School District 65 and the YMCA pulling together for our kids and making a positive impact on their success at school.”
There is no cost to the families to participate. The pilot is funded by a grant from the YMCA of the USA. If the program is continued next year, the McGaw Y may seek funding to operate the program, which costs about $1,600 per student, said Ms. Huelskoetter.
The McGaw Y is also implementing the program at its Foster Reading Center this summer. Although not part of the official pilot, the same curriculum model will be used, with certified teachers, staff and volunteers working together to support an additional 16 children over the summer.