Summer Literacy Collaborative
The following post was written by: Guest Blogger Rick Metters Executive Director at Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs
To quote the great poets and philosophers The Four Tops, there was "sunshine on a cloudy day" inside the Gregg Neighborhood House in Lynn recently where outstanding news about preventing summer learning loss was shared to the out-of-school time field and beyond. A promising partnership between United Ways, community based organizations, public schools, intermediary "hubs" and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care resulted in 85% of the participating young people avoiding the typical three month learning loss described in research. These results are truly game changers for a range of people and providers who work with youth, especially those who offer summer programs and camps. Since Dr. Beth Millers' ground breaking work on summer learning loss "The Learning Season", we have known of the profound and cumulative impact that it has on stifling the growth of children and the potential that intentional, ideally collaborative efforts could have on mitigating summer learning loss. The results from this innovative partnership demonstrate that not only can children not fall behind in the summer, they can actually accelerate their learning with an astounding 68% of the students showing gains in reading skills.
I look forward to sharing the results of the study with my colleagues in the Boys & Girls Club Movement and other youth development and community partners and hope others will do the same. The opportunity to share such good news is one which needs to be seized and we need to work expeditiously to spread the word both within and outside of our networks. Policy makers, elected officials and those who generously support our work must also be engaged. Whether this is injected into our discussions about education reform, support of out-of-school/after-school time or simply the context of what is best for the kids we are dedicated to serve, we can't let this opportunity slip because too many children in need are depending on us.
The implications of this study are both thought-provoking and far-reaching, not merely from a practical standpoint of program replication and learning from best practices, but also from a policy standpoint. For those of us such as the event's panel participants/organizers Senator McGee, Lisa Pickard and Susan O'Connor who served on the MA Legislature's Special Commission on After School and Out-of-School Time a few years ago, the resulting discussions that will occur due this study will build on the information we gathered and the input we received from hearings held across the Commonwealth from diverse audiences and communities.
For example, to paraphrase the research of Dr. Miller and the event remarks from Nick Donahue from the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation, if the "achievement gap" can largely be explained by the skill differential upon entering kindergarten and cumulative summer learning loss, this has significant policy and political ramifications. (As an aside, it is worth noting that for too long, those who support early education and those who support after school have often been seen on competing sides of vying for scarce resources, it apparent more than ever that we are both part of the solving the achievement gap and should act as such.) If children from low-income families can largely keep up with their more affluent peers during the school year, then what we do as a caring community (or the "ecosystem of learning" as put by Nick Donahue) during the summer can make a truly meaningful and lasting difference on the ability of our children to become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society.
From a programming perspective, the study presents a great opportunity to take the lessons learned and, as resources allow, put into practice the critical elements that will lead towards similar positive results. From journals and reader's theater to buddy reading and "cool word" games, there are many simple ways that programs can get started. If they can build collaborative relationships with public schools and other community partners to include trained literacy coaches, that's even better. However, no matter how large or small the programs may be and regardless of the level of resources in hand, all of us can start incorporating at least some of these elements in our own summer programming. Accordingly, if additional resources were to become available, then a more full scale replication of the features of the study would be possible.