In preparation for deciding on summer school programs to be offered to struggling students in the summer of 2016, District 65 administrators asked the District’s summer-school partners to describe the programs they offered last summer and the results they saw from those programs.

Summer reading programs have been shown to help students maintain and in some cases improve their reading levels over the three-month summer vacation. District 65 tests students within a few weeks of their return to school in the fall, to compare the results with the levels at the end of the spring semester – addressing what has been termed the “summer setback” or the “summer slide.”

At the Dec. 7 Board meeting, representatives from Foundation 65, the McGaw Y and Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) told Board members and administrators how many children they served and at what sites and how they believed the children fared in their programs.

Foundation 65 Summer Reading Program for Rising Second-graders

Lise Jinno, executive director of Foundation 65, said the Foundation’s Summer Reading Program was developed several years ago by Linda Shusterman.

“Linda was for many years a Reading Recovery teacher at District 65. She witnessed the summer reading loss and designed the summer home reading program based on the real needs she saw with District 65 students, and based on research and best practices,” Ms. Jinno said.

The Foundation’s summer program is a parent-involved home-reading program for students who in first grade received reading support. Teachers select 24 books – 12 fiction and 12 non-fiction – for each student, “that reflect the special interests of each student and match the student’s end-of-year reading level,” according to Foundation 65.

“This summer teachers picked out how-to books, and parents commented on how they were more engaged [with this type of book],” Ms. Shusterman said.

During the summer months, each student receives six packets, each containing four books,” Ms. Shusterman said. The students are allowed to keep the books.

Foundation 65 said, “Research has documented that giving children books, as opposed to lending books, for summer reading also produced larger effects on achievement.”

Each student also receives a personalized letter from the teacher, some paper and a stamped envelope addressed to the teacher.

Ms. Shusterman said, “Writing is important in terms of composition, but it’s also important because reading and writing are a reciprocal process – and especially for beginning readers because they’re learning as much through the writing [as through the reading].”

In the fall, each student who participated in the Foundation 65 summer reading program received a magazine subscription to “Ranger Rick” or “My Big Back Yard,” so they would continue to receive reading material in the second grade.

This past summer, 163 rising second-grade students – 141 English-speaking and 22 Spanish-speaking – from 12 schools participated in Foundation 65’s program. Of these, 85% maintained or increased their reading levels over the summer.

The cost of the program is about $350 per child, totaling about $57,000 – not counting the postage subsidy from the District for mailing the packets to the children.

Feedback from the parents has been positive, Ms. Shusterman said. Foundation 65 provided examples of comments from parents and letters from students: “We loved getting all the books each time. We were so happy to be able to read every day.” “It is still a struggle for XXX but the excitement of getting packages and new books from you helps.” “She really enjoyed [the books] and they helped her improve her reading.” “I love my books. Thank you so much.” “Me and my Dad read the book about smelling. I like that snakes smell with their tongues. P.S. butterflies smell with their feet.”

The McGaw Y’s “Learn to Read; Read to Learn” Program for Rising First- Through Third-Graders

Kaleena Escallier, senior director, school age programs from the McGaw Y, with Nichole Woodard Iliev, branch executive director, reported on the McGaw Y’s summer program.

Participating students – all of whom were reading below the 50th percentile – were invited during February parent conferences to join the program, Ms. Escallier said.

Jamilla Pitts, Summer Learning Coordinator for the District, said, “The initial model was to serve children reading between the 30th and 50th percentile. But we didn’t want to exclude students who were below the 30th percentile so we went to the Y to implement the model that serves all the population reading under the 50th percentile in these target schools [Washington, Oakton and Dawes].”

The programs at Washington, Oakton and Dawes schools served students who attended those schools during the school year. Thirty-two second- and third-graders from other schools were served at the Foster Reading Center, located in the Family Focus building.

The program ran four days a week for six weeks. A typical day included 2.5 hours of intensive literacy instruction, weekly enrichment activities, such as art, music, character development, nutrition education and physical activities, Ms. Escallier said. The literacy instruction included guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and phonics. “We used District 65 teachers to help create the afternoon enhancement curriculum to keep thematic learning throughout the day,” she said.

“One of our successes was the growth of our Reading Buddies. Seventy-five volunteer Reading Buddies read to students every week,” said Ms. Escallier. She also said the McGaw Y was “pleased with their family engagement piece. Over 90% of our families participated in at least one family event.” There were four family nights and one field trip, and each participant received a three-month family membership to the McGaw Y.

Ms. Escallier thanked the City of Evanston, which provided 26,000 healthy snacks and meals. “A lot of parents shared how much they appreciated the healthy meals, especially first thing in the morning, to get kids ready for the day,” she said.

The McGaw Y uses the STAR reading assessment for pre- and post-testing. Overall, 66% of those students increased their scale score in the post-program testing.

Ms. Escallier said the summer was “a successful summer with an average of 3.4 months gained in reading throughout the course of the program. “We really wanted to focus on moderate gains. … We’re still digging deeper into the data,” she said.

Board member Richard Rykhus said, “Without doing the math, it seems like this program seems to be one of our smarter investments in terms of return: how our kids are growing.” He asked to have the data broken out by demographics “so we can see how different subgroups are progressing.”

“The McGaw Y can do that,” said Ms. Escallier.

Mr. Rykhus said he would like all the partners to do that.

Y.O.U. Summer Learning Program

Three hundred fifty-eight District 65 children participated in Y.O.U.’s summer program for nine weeks, every single day of the week,” said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green. “The Summer learning Program was extremely experiential and tailored to the interests of the children.”

Y.O.U.’s programs address the “opportunity gap,” Mr. Green said, which Y.O.U. feels is the precursor of the achievement gap. “We use these to begin to address the roots of the structural problem [the achievement gap].”

Megan Orleans, assistant director for out-of-school programs at Y.O.U., said their programs focus on experiential learning and life skills. Examples of experiential learning are arts, drama, literature, sports, fitness, character-building and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Life-skills classes focused on civic responsibility and leadership, cultural competency, health and nutrition and – for middle schoolers – healthy relationships and sexual health.

Y.O.U. programs are focused more on social-emotional learning than on academics. From surveys given before and after the program Y.O.U. found that students progressed in building healthy relationships, setting goals and developing skills, according to information from Y.O.U.

As part of its summer programming, Y.O.U. offered several STEM classes, with partners District 65, the Talking Farm and Northwestern University’s Science in Society.

In partnership with The Talking Farm, youth participants learned how to plant, reap and cook their harvest. They also learned sustainable practices, such as using rain barrels. With Northwestern’s Science in Society, students learned about the science of food – why “bad” foods are unhealthy, for example – and experimented with creating healthy versions of ice cream and chips.

Mr. Green and Ms. Orleans also described a new focus for Y.O.U.

“Y.O.U. has been” working very closely with the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago to create a framework for young adult success, Mr. Green said.

“There is a framework from the Consortium that really speaks to us educators in out-of-school time – a framework for young adult success.

This broader research-based framework has really become a catalyst for unifying our thinking – particularly for our summer,” Mr. Green added.

Ms. Orleans said the Consortium found four foundational components to young people’s success: self-regulation, mindsets, values, and knowledge and skills. Y.O.U. plans to incorporate those components into project-based learning – first as a pilot in the spring and then in summer projects, she said.

“We want to make sure we’re meeting all those components at a developmentally appropriate level. … We hope we are creating really engaged and educated citizens,” Ms. Orleans said.

District 65 Summer Programs

Jamilla Pitts, the District’s Summer Learning Coordinator, described other summer programs: Jumpstart at SPPAC (Services for Pre-Primary Aged Kids); the District’s summer at-home reading; Newcomers; Extended School Year for students at Rice Center, Park School and the Options program at King Arts; middle-school summer camp scholarships and a collaboration with Fleetwood-Jourdain’s camp.

The District’s extended-school-year programming is mandated for special needs students “at risk of regression and insufficient recoupment,” according to a memo from Ms. Pitts, Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Price and Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Joyce Bartz.

For a student to participate, “The service must be designated in the student’s Individual Education Program, and parents must accept and confirm enrollment,” the memo said.

Looking Ahead

A total of 1,024 students took part in summer programs sponsored by the District and its partners. The cost for General Education summer programs was $260,551. That amount does not include transportation and postage. Costs for the two mandated programs, summer learning programs in the Extended School Year and SPPAC, came to $225,690.

The memo from Ms. Pitts, Mr. Price and Ms. Bartz concluded that the programs offered by the District and by its partners were valuable and addressed “the needs of the whole child.”

The three administrators identified places where certain programs could be revised or enhanced to “expand and enrich what has been accomplished in the summer 2015 programming.”

The Board could decide as early as February on the programs it will support for the summer.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...