School District 65 is focused on improving its summer program through careful program planning using data and success metrics, John Price, assistant superintendent of schools, told School Board members at their meeting on Nov. 17. The programs will focus on developing literacy and social and emotional learning for the District’s youngest at-risk students. Family engagement will also be key.

Research shows that an achievement gap exists between students from low-income families and those from middle- or upper-income families when they begin school. Some researchers say it increases over time as a result of what is referred to as a “summer learning loss.” Students from middle- or upper-income families typically increase their academic knowledge by one month during the summer. A child from a low-income family, however, typically loses two months of reading skills in the summer.

Mr. Price told members of the Board, “One important part of summer learning is an opportunity to prevent and reverse the achievement gap that we see in some of our outcome assessment data. Some studies place summer learning loss at the center and one of the causes of the achievement gap.

“Summer learning is also a fertile place for innovation and it’s an opportunity for our District to develop new ideas, new partnerships, and new approaches.”

Jamilla Pitts, District 65’s summer learning coordinator, said, “There’s growing research – that we’re all looking at – that says to address the summer learning loss in a very holistic way; and the National Summer Learning Association does emphasize the need to work with community partners and the need to talk about a longer-range plan and support for students.”

Last summer the School Board focused on building partnerships with community organizations to address the summer learning loss. Next year administrators plan to continue and expand the partnerships with community organizations to further that effort.

Representatives from Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.) and McGaw Y were present at the Board meeting to discuss their summer programs. Ms. Pitts summarized a wide range of other programs.

Superintendent Paul Goren said the purpose of the presentation was to provide information to the Board, answer questions and gather input. “We will come back in December with a game plan for moving forward in the following year,” he said.

A. Components of the 2014 Summer Learning

Last summer, Ms. Pitts said, District 65 served a total of 976 students through a variety of programs offered in partnership with Foundation 65, Y.O.U., McGaw Y, and Project EXCITE. Students were identified for the programs using a variety of factors, including reading ability, low-income status, whether a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) called for extended-year services, and whether the student was an English-language learner.

1. Foundation 65’s Summer Reading Program (K and 1st Grades)

The District served a total of 243 students who just graduated from kindergarten and first grade through a Summer Reading Program that was pioneered by Foundation 65 for students graduating from first-grade. Last summer the District 65 expanded the program to include kindergarteners.

F65’s program is an at-home reading program for students who received supplementary reading support during the school year. Families were asked to participate in an orientation before the end of the school year, and parents and guardians were provided information on how to increase their children’s’ literacy skills. During the summer, the child’s teacher prepared a selection of books that were mailed to the student’s home, and the teacher periodically communicated with the student about what he or she was learning.

Ms. Pitts said the program “gets some really strong results.”

2. The McGaw Y – Academics and Enrichment (K, 1st and 2nd Grades)

Monique Parsons, chief operating officer of McGaw Y, told School Board members that McGaw Y’s Summer Learning Program is based on a model designed by YMCA USA to address the summer learning loss, and it “focuses primarily on literacy.” Last summer, the program served 100 District 65 students who graduated from kindergarten, first and second grades at Oakton and Washington schools and the Family Focus Reading Center. The program ran four days a week for six weeks.

The students were provided two-and-one-half hours of literacy instruction by a District 65 teacher in the morning and enrichment activities at YMCA in the afternoon. The enrichment activities were designed by teachers “to support the learning that’s taking place in the classroom,” said Ms. Parsons, and the activities included art, music, character development, nutrition education, daily physical activity (weekly swim lessons) and one field trip each week.

Kenzi Huelskoetter, branch executive director of the Children’s Center at McGaw Y, said, “Parent engagement is a huge piece of the program.” Teachers instructed parents on how to make literacy a part of their home, and McGaw Y planned activities that brought parents together. Fifty volunteers read books to students one day a week.

Ms. Huelskoetter told Board members the program was successful in preventing summer learning loss and strengthening literacy skills. Rather than losing the typical two-months, students on average improved in reading ability by almost three months grade equivalency during the summer, as measured by pre- and post-testing on STAR, a computer-adaptive test.

A survey of parents and guardians of students who participated in the program showed favorable results: 100% of those surveyed said the program increased their child’s reading and writing skills and improved their attitude about school; 96% said they read to their child more often.

One limitation of the program is it was offered only to students who scored between the 30th and 50th percentile in reading on a District 65 test. Students who scored below the 30th percentile were not included.

3. Y.O.U. – Experiential Learning (Grades 3-7)

Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., said, “We are at our core competency, social, emotional and motivational. Our hope is that when we do our work, kids will show up ready for all the great resources that open at the schools doors.”

Last summer, Y.O.U. served 275 District 65 students, third grade and up, from low-income households, said Maria Rassiwalla, Y.O.U.’s summer program director. Each day, youth participated in five to seven hours of programing that had two main focus areas: experiential learning and life skills workshops. The experiential learning included workshops in arts, drama, creative writing, science and technology, and sports and recreation. Youth conducted science engagements, wrote poetry, produced films, choreographed dance routines, and traveled on field trips.

Youth also participated in life skills discussions in the areas of civic leadership and responsibility, cultural connections, physical health and nutrition and healthy relationships and sexual health.

Ms. Rassiwalla said that Y.O.U. also focused on parental engagement and it provided clinical counseling to individuals and families.

The program was provided five days a week for nine weeks at schools made available by District 65. District 65 also provided funding to assist Y.O.U. to serve 52 students who attended District 65 schools outside of Y.O.U.’s current network.

A survey of youth in the program showed positive results. Some of the responses were: 78% of the youth reported having greater confidence in themselves as a result of the program; 87% reported having an additional adult they could trust in their life; 72% reported they had increased awareness of their core skills; 64% reported they deepened and expanded their interests.

When asked by Dr. Goren to comment on whether the program had an impact on the academic side, Mr. Green said, “On the motivational level, we feel we move the needle the most. Our hope is if we move that needle of motivation, that with our great school partners, that will ultimately translate into achievement, because youth are going into a high quality environment every day.”

He said he thought some of the indicators of success are attendance, disciplinary records, participation in class and level of homework completion.

4. District 65’s Pilot (2nd Graders)

Ms. Pitts said District 65 “modeled” a program after the McGaw Y program to serve 52 English-speaking students and 17 Spanish-dominant students in the Two-Way Immersion program, all of whom were graduates of second grade. These students were provided academic instruction in literacy and math by District 65 teachers in the morning and enrichment experiences by McGaw Y staff at Camp Shine in the afternoon.

The program ran for six weeks, four days a week. A key difference from the McGaw Y Summer Learning Program is the District 65 pilot included students below the 30th percentile.

Ms. Pitts said the English-speaking students in this program were tested using STAR, and the results “were less than expected.” A little more than half of the students showed gains and a little less than half showed either no growth or a decrease in academic performance.

Ms. Pitts told the RoundTable that the average growth was “flat,” or, on average, no summer loss, but no gain.

Board member Candance Chow put a positive spin on this saying that eliminating the typical summer loss for these students might be viewed as a positive outcome.

5. Other Programs

Ms. Pitts summarized a number of other programs offered by District 65 last summer: District 65 provided services to 225 pre-k to seventh-grade students who had extended-year services as part of their Individual Education Plan; it provided a “Newcomer Program” for 34 students new to the United States; it provided services to 94 students at Rice and Park schools; and it provided space for 29 students participating in Project Excite.

B. Priorities for a 2015 Summer Program

In a memo given to the Board, Mr. Price said that the District’s curriculum and instruction team highlighted six priority areas for summer learning: literacy and social and emotional learning; at-risk students; youngest students/early interventions; family engagement; data indicating effectiveness; and cost effectiveness. The plan is to use these priorities in developing a framework for the program next year.

The memo also summarized the curriculum and instruction team’s preliminary thinking on how last summer’s programs met these criteria:

• The Summer Reading Program designed by Foundation 65 “would be our highest priority,” says the memo. It adds, “We would recommend continuation and expansion of the program to serve all at-risk kindergarten and 1st grade students in the District and expanding it to 2nd graders not involved in other summer programs.”

• “The YMCA partnership is our second priority,” says the memo. The primary disadvantage is the program does not serve students below the 30th percentile. The memo raises questions about how to serve those students.

• The third priority is the Newcomers program that serves students new to this country.

 • The memo says the Y.O.U. partnership is a well-regarded program and a holistically important partnership, but it only serves two priority areas: at risk students and family engagement. The memo also notes that Y.O.U. has not participated in pre- and post-testing, making data-based decisions impossible.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki asked Mr. Green if Y.O.U. was willing to partner in a program in which District 65 teachers taught students in the morning and Y.O.U. provided enrichment activities in the afternoon. Mr. Green responded, “There’s a great openness to do that.” He added that Y.O.U. was willing to explore measuring academic achievement using standardized tests.

Board member Richard Rykhus suggested tracking whether gains made over a summer impact a student’s long-term achievement. “It would be really interesting to see how much of these gains are sustained over time,” he said. Ms. Parsons said McGaw Y would be interested to see that data.

Ms. Chow said, “This is collective impact. What we’re talking about in this room is collective impact at work.” She said two things she would like to see are a common framework for evaluating success, and a plan to enhance parent engagement, so that students and parents have a sense of ownership in the schools.

Ms. Quattrocki asked Mr. Price if administrators were thinking of expanding the summer program next year. Mr. Price said, “The bigger idea is to take the success District 65 has had in partnering with Y.O.U. and YMCA and look for additional partners. We are not touching hundreds of students in Evanston with summer learning.” Part of the developing plan “is to convene other community partners to ask who can you best help so we’re offering together, as a community, a broad range of supports.”

Board member Claudia Garrison asked if administrators will be looking at providing summer services to middle-schoolers. In line with the stated priorities, Mr. Price said, “My recommendation would be to focus on early interventions and younger children.”

Dr. Goren said administrators will come back with a strategic framework “that we’ll be working on with our partners,” and we’ll be on a pathway to reaching out to other potential partners.



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...