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At their Nov. 18 meeting, District 65 School Board members focused on what is called the “summer learning loss,” a loss of academic skills that students from low-income households typically experience during the summer months. Some researchers say that summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap.

The School Board heard presentations about ways in which District 65 and its community partners,  McGaw YMCA and Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.), are attempting to address summer learning loss. Last month, Foundation 65 summarized its summer reading program for the Board.

Barb Hiller, chief administrative officer for the District, opened the discussion by saying the administration was not making a proposal that night. She told Board members, “It’s really important to hear your questions, comments  and ideas, so we can come back in January with a proposal with what we would like to do next summer.”

The McGaw Y – Academics and Enrichment

Monique Parsons, chief operating officer of McGaw Y, told Board members that McGaw Y’s program is based on a model designed by YMCA USA to address the summer learning loss. Last summer, the program served 100 District 65 students at Oakton and Washington schools and the Family Focus Reading Center.

A video presented by McGaw Y illustrated that an achievement gap exists when students begin school, and that it increases over time as a result of the summer learning loss. Families 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 of reading skills in the summer. By fifth grade, children from low-income families are typically 2.5 years behind middle- or upper-income families in terms of academic achievement.

The program targets students who are entering first, second or third grades and who scored between the 30th and 50th percentiles on a District 65 test. The program runs for six weeks and provides literacy instruction in the morning – with classes taught by a District 65 teacher and a teacher’s aide – and enrichment activities in the afternoon. For a more detailed description of the program, see link below.

The cost to operate the program is $1,300 per student. District 65 provides the schools, and paid the equivalent of four-weeks of the teachers’ salaries.

Y.O.U. – Experiential Learning

Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., cited a report that says two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap is due to the summer learning loss. He emphasized, though, that the learning lost during the summer is not only academic learning. “It’s also full-life learning,” he said. “It’s the experiences. The middle-class kid gets to go to camp and learn resilience,  and be tested on the basketball court, or they’re developing a robot in a STEM lab or they’re out doing theater projects.

“It’s not just an academic problem. But it is a social, emotional and human problem.”

Perhaps reflecting this philosophy, Mr. Green said,  “The core idea of our summer program is experiential learning and exposure. … The approach is to follow kids’ interests, embedding lots of learning.”

Thus, an arts and drama program is used to provide literacy instruction; film-making and digital opportunities provide exposure to science and technology; the sports program exposes kids to working with statistics.

Last summer, Y.O.U. served 271 District 65 students, fourth grade and up, from low-income households. The program ran seven hours a day, five days a week for nine weeks at schools made available by District 65.  Four university professors helped design the program, said Mr. Green.

AmeriCorps volunteers work in the program as do college and graduate students. The “marginal cost” per student is about $1,000.

District 65 – Engaging in Academics

Jamilla Pitts, summer learning coordinator for District 65, said summer learning loss is something the District has been attuned to for the last couple of years. Part of the approach is to “make summer learning more energetic for students,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said, “We’ve moved away from a remedial summer school to a student engagement summer school several years ago. “

Last summer, the District served 860 students for a total of 15 days, four hours a day. The program used social justice themes as the basis for the literacy curriculum. For math, teachers used mathematics games for K-4 students and a math design studio that combined engineering, mathematics and character development  students at grades 5-7.  A robotics and engineering class was offered to Bessie Rhodes and Haven students.

Ms. Pitts said the number of students served and the length of the program was limited by budgetary constraints. In an effort to “maximize the impact of our resources,” said Ms. Pitts, “we look for students who have a combination of needs.” As an example, she said a student who was both from a low-income household and who had a Response to Intervention plan would qualify.

She added that if a student met the criteria for Y.O.U’s or McGaw Y’s program, the District would refer the student to one of those programs because they lasted longer and provided enrichment activities or experiential learning.

The cost of District 65’s program was about $675 per student.

Going Forward – Enhancing Partnerships

Board members expressed an interest in enhancing the partnerships with Y.O.U., McGaw Y, and Foundation 65 – and possibly partnering with other community groups – to reach all kids who need help and to produce better outcomes. They also appeared to favor an approach that would enhance not only academic skills, but social and emotional development.

Candance Chow said Y.O.U’s  and the McGaw Y’s programs provided an innovative way to look at summer learning. “You guys have a touchstone to it and that’s going to be key for us to think about. How do you get this social and emotional development, how do you get this experiential learning and then couple it with a hardcore academic component that is important as well?”

Richard Rykhus focused on comments that the achievement gap builds up due to the summer learning loss. “We already knew that early childhood accounted for some of it,” he said.

“It seems like we should really be looking –  as we consider programs in this next round of budgeting – at how we’re focusing on  those two areas because if together those two areas are just 50 percent or 70 percent [of the gap] that’s a lot. That really stood out to me.”

Mr. Rykhus said it would be helpful to look collectively at the programs and the related costs and determine, “Do we have a chance to shift some of our dollars over into some of these programs so it can grow beyond 100 or 271 students?”

Katie Bailey, said, “I’d love to see a decision be made jointly in terms of how we reach all of these kids and work together. It’s not that we’re not working together, but we should look at this set amount of money we have and decide how it can be used more effectively.”

“Richard made a great point about early childhood and summer learning loss,” Ms. Bailey continued. She said if the District could address the early childhood issue and the summer learning loss, “we would be a step ahead. “We’re rich with resources and partnership opportunities. …So how do we think about that for summer learning?”

Claudia Garrison probed how students were selected for each program in an effort to determine which groups of students were being served and who might be left out. Several other Board members emphasized that it was very important in making a decision to identify the target group of students and to determine who might be left out.

Assistant Superintendent Ellen Fogelberg cautioned that the District at one time had 1,500 kids in the summer program.  “It wasn’t as successful as we would want,” she said, because of the limited number of District 65 teachers who were interested in teaching during the summer. Administrators felt the maximum number of students the District could serve and do a good job was about  900 students.

Ms. Bailey responded, “There may be a package of partnership opportunities.  I think that’s what was dynamic about the discussion tonight. We can’t solve these problems on our own. But we can in collaboration with outside organizations and that’s where I think there may be opportunity.”

Board President Tracy Quattrocki said one way to think about partnering is just sending more kids to McGaw Y or more kids to Y.O.U.  Another way that might be worthwhile to explore, she said, is for District 65 to provide the academic part of the summer program, perhaps in two shifts, and for one of the District’s partners to provide the enrichment activities or experiential learning.

Ms. Schultz said administrators were considering those types of approaches.

Ms. Hiller said, “I think what we all liked and heard tonight is we’re really addressing the whole child and not doing things in isolation, but with the community.  I think that’s the key to have that happen better.”


Measuring the Impact of Summer Programs

McGaw Y reported that rather that losing ground over the summer, students in its program improved reading ability by almost three months during the summer, measured by pre- and post-testing on STAR, a computer-adaptive test.

Assistant Superintendent Ellen Fogelberg said the District analyzed the effect of both McGaw Y’s and Foundation 65’s summer programs by comparing students’ end-of-year results with their beginning-of-year results on the District Reading Assessment. Using this analysis, she said they found that most kids in both programs grew and none lost any ground during the summer.

Y.O.U. and District 65 did not analyze the impact of their programs. Ms. Fogelberg said it would be difficult to assess the impact of the District’s program because it lasted only 15 days.

A recent report, “”Making Summer Count,”” published by the Rand Corporation, concluded, “”Summer learning programs can have short-term effects, but what is more compelling to decisionmakers is the effectiveness of programming over the long term. … A few studies have looked at whether effects carry over for two years and have found that positive effects persist. … However, no study has addressed whether those gains persist after two years.””

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...