Left, Daniel, Myrion, Leticia Irving and Billy read at Oakton Elementary School. Photo by Hannah Prokop

McGaw YMCA presented the results of its summer school program, “Learn to Read, Read to Learn,” to a group of supporters at Prairie Moon on Nov. 8. Now in its second year, the program is operated in partnership with School District 65. It had tremendous results,” said Monique Parsons, chief operating officer of McGaw Y. “I’m proud of the success of these children.”

“District 65 is thrilled with the results,” said Ellen Fogelberg, assistant superintendent at District 65. “The students’ teachers report that the participants are entering the next grade with stronger skills, more confidence, and improved readiness.”

The Program’s Goal

The summer program is designed to address the “summer learning loss” which is one factor that contributes to the achievement gap, said Ms. Parsons.

An achievement gap exists when students begin school, and it increases over time as a result of the “summer learning loss,” said Ms. Parsons. She said children from middle- or upper-income families typically increase their academic knowledge by one month during the summer because they participate in camps, trips to museums and other enrichment activities.  A child from a low-income family, however, typically loses two months in reading skills during the summer. By fifth grade, children from low-income families are typically 2.5 years behind middle- or upper-income families in terms of student achievement, she said.

The YMCA, on a national basis, decided to address the achievement gap by addressing the summer learning loss, said Jarrett Royster, national director for urban and education development for YMCA of the U.S.A. He said the YMCA’s 2,600 branches serve 9.4 million children in the nation, and the YMCA felt it could leverage its resources to make a difference.  The program is modeled after a program at the YMCA in Charlotte, N.C., and piloted in 2012 at five branches of the YMCA, including the McGaw Y.

The goal of the program is to provide students in the community “an opportunity to not only maintain, but grow their literacy skills during the summer months and to increase the number of third-grade students who are on grade level.”

Kenzi  Huelskoetter, director of youth development for the McGaw Y, said, “We’re trying to create opportunities for these children. You must be able to read by third grade in order to learn.”

The Summer Program

Ms. Huelskoetter said the six-week program served 100 students last summer at three locations: 48 students at Oakton Elementary School; 32 students at Washington Elementary School; and 20 at the Family Focus Learning Center. One of the classes at Washington is conducted in Spanish.

The target group of students are those who are entering first, second or third grades and who scored between the 30th and 50th percentiles on the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), which is administered by District 65 during the school year, she said.

The students received two and one-half hours of literacy instruction, four mornings a week. Classes were taught by certified teachers, and each class had a teacher’s aide. The teachers and aides were all employed by District 65 during the school year.

In the afternoons, students participated in four-and-one-half hours of enrichment activities, such as swimming lessons, nutrition education, art and music, and character development. There were field trips each week that were aligned with what students were learning in the classroom.

Forty volunteers read books to the kids for an hour every Thursday. Parents were required to sign a pledge to read to their children 20 minutes a day. Two workshops provided parents tips on how to make literacy part of the home.

District 65 was an active partner. It made its schools available for the program; it recommended teachers and aides for the program; it played a role in identifying potential students; and I paid a portion of the teachers’ salaries.

The Results

Ms. Huelskoetter reported the program had great results. Rather than losing ground over the summer, the students on average improved in reading ability by almost three months during the summer, as measured by pre- and post-testing on STAR, a computer-adaptive test.  At individual sites, the average growth was 3.4 months at Oakton, 3.9 months at Washington and 1.7 months at Foster.

In addition, in response to a survey, 100% of the parents reported that their children were more excited to learn, 100% said their children’s reading and writing skills had improved, 100% said their child’s self-confidence improved, and 100% said they were satisfied with the program, said Ms. Huelskoetter.

 “We’re serving kids who normally would not get this opportunity,” said Cody New, a kindergarten teacher at Oakton and a director of the summer program at the school. “They feel more confident in their abilities and confident in their abilities to achieve and they’re proud of that.”

Kate Ellison, principal at Washington, said District 65 analyzes young students’ reading scores at the end and beginning of the school years using the Developmental Reading Assessment. Based on that test data, she said the summer program “resulted in positive academic growth for students over the summer, which is historically a time when we see academic regression.”

“We’re very excited about this program,” Ms. Ellison said. “The program is resource rich. The more we can partner the better we can close the achievement gap. I’m very grateful for this program.”

The cost to provide the program is approximately $1,300 per student, said Jonathan Webb, chief development officer of McGaw Y. To continue the program next summer at all three sites will cost about $148,000, he said. “We’ve raised about 50 percent so far.”

Mr. Webb acknowledged there are more children in District 65 who could benefit from the program, but said, “we want to be sure we can sustain what we have.”

Bill Geiger, president and chief executive officer of the McGaw Y, said, “We can only move the needle through deep partnerships. We can make a difference through partnerships with District 65, ETHS, Y.O.U, Family Focus and others.”  

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...