Summer Spotlight: High-Quality Enrichment Programs Accelerate Academic Recovery

For most students, leaving school for the academic year is met with anticipation and excitement. For parents and families, it can bring challenges. Finding a safe place for students to spend their time throughout the day during the summer until parents can finish work can be a daunting task. For educators, there are concerns about students losing academic skills during the summer, as well as the impact of a year of remote learning.. Here we discuss the importance of summer programs, which are critical to ensuring student success by providing quality childcare, rigorous academic instruction, and engaging activities. We also look at high-quality examples of programs serving Alabama students right now.

Governor Ivey Visiting a High-Quality Program July 2021

High-quality, community-based summer learning is an opportunity to accelerate our academic recovery from COVID-19. This is not traditional “summer school,” or a repeat of the traditional school year. It is important that these programs engage students and offer them new experiences. Effective programs should be full-day with strong academics, while providing fun enrichment activities that keep students interested and coming back for the full program. Partnerships between local school districts and community organizations are critical, as they offer individualized experiences for students within their communities while ensuring the needed resources are provided for the sustainability of the program. 

The American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, set aside billions of dollars for afterschool and summer enrichment programs. In Alabama alone, $40 million was set aside to support high-quality out-of-school-time programs. It’s no surprise that this significant amount of funding was invested in summer and afterschool learning. When done well, it has been a proven method of accelerating student learning, both in the classroom, as well as socially and emotionally. Decades of research suggest that students engaged in out-of-school time enrichment programs improve in basic reading and math skills, develop strong social skills, attend school more often, and have higher graduation rates. A+ recently released a proposal advocating for dedicated state funding for high-quality community-based, summer and afterschool programs. You can read the proposal here.

Additionally, the Alabama Literacy Act requires school systems to offer 70 hours of summer reading enrichment for students that fail to meet basic proficiency on spring state reading assessments. This requirement enters its first year of implementation this summer. It will be critical that every local school district develop robust summer and afterschool programs that include both rich reading and STEM instruction as well as engaging enrichment activities. There are many great examples of school systems and community partnerships across the state of Alabama delivering this type of high-quality summer enrichment. Here are some high-quality examples:

Dreamcatchers Summer Program in the Blount County School System

Dreamcatchers is entering its sixth summer of operation this summer and is offered to students at several sites across Blount County (including to all migrant students in the district). Student participants in this rural, summer enrichment program receive academic, social, and emotional learning experiences designed to support success in school and life. The camp meets all criteria of the Alabama Literacy Act’s summer learning camp requirement. The program focuses on the development of the whole child through a multitude of activities that align with research on best summer practices. Each day, students receive reading and math instruction from a certified teacher. They also participate in a wide range of enrichment activities, which range from art, music, STEM, and more. Through a collaborative partnership with the Blount County Board of Education, the school district provides transportation, meals through the school district feeding program, facilities, maintenance, custodial services, and utilities.  

Over the past three years, students participating in the Dreamcatchers summer program have, on average, experienced an impressive 7 months of learning gain in math and 5 months of learning gain in reading. For more detailed information on Dreamcatcher’s camp, click here.

Full “STEAM” Ahead at Huntsville City School System

Huntsville City Schools will offer Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics (STEAM) camps across all elementary schools this summer. The programs meet all of the requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act summer learning camps. The program will be a combination of daily high-energy kinesthetic, sports-themed reading and math vocabulary activities and motivational social-emotional character-building themes to mirror the activities. All of the learning games will be connected to character traits that embody teamwork, perseverance, creativity, resilience, and grit, bringing in social-emotional learning skills students need now more than ever. Additionally, the Huntsville Summer Feeding Program will be supplying breakfast and lunch to the students while at the summer learning experience. 

 While this is a new program for HCS this school year, the same multi-sensory and differentiated approach to summer enrichment has positively impacted students’ reading and math skills over the course of the past three years, to the tune of 3 months of positive academic gain in both math and reading.  For more information on HCS’ summer programs, click here.

LEAPing into Summer in Montgomery

MGM LEAPS (Learning and Enrichment Acceleration Program for our Students) program creates and deploys an intentional, targeted program framework and approach to supporting Montgomery students with the academic and social-emotional challenges that contribute to the COVID slide. Through local partnerships, MGM LEAPS will provide accelerated learning opportunities and supported programming that can be broadly implemented through a variety of community partners outside of the traditional school day. 

In the summer of 2021, MGM LEAPS will serve summer program students at two Montgomery Parks & Recreation sites across the city. The Montgomery Education Foundation will partner with local universities, community organizations, and leaders to strengthen program implementation as well as support the social and emotional needs of students. In addition, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) will be deployed to progress monitor program goals and provide a comprehensive program evaluation. The program is funded through the City of Montgomery. For more information on the city of Montgomery’s summer program, click here.