In January 2017, the Fort Worth Literacy Partnership, United Way of Tarrant County, and the City of Fort Worth formed the Summer Learning Collaborative Action Network at the encouragement of Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who challenged public and private providers of summer youth programs to incorporate literacy into their curricula.

Based on research indicating that access to quality summer learning programs can disrupt learning loss, Mayor Price and the FWLP leadership believed that there might be significant benefits for the 70 percent of FWISD third-graders who do not read on grade-level.  The purpose of this report, prepared by Urban Leaders Fellow La Toya D. Sales, is to describe the process used by the Summer Learning CAN; to detail the strategies adopted, to report the qualitative and quantitative outcomes, and to translate lessons learned into plans for summer 2018 and beyond.

A cohort of members representing organizations was committed to the idea that all children ages 4 to 9 should have access to summer learning opportunities that help them maintain or gain literacy skills between the end of their school term and the beginning of the next school term. The CAN’s co-chairs Dr. Gleniece Robinson, Fort Worth Library Director, and LaToya Stewart, Vice President for Community Development for United Way of Tarrant County, organized the work into three sub-groups each focused on a specific strategy designed to be implemented by summer 2017. The three strategies were: developing knowledge of best practices in summer learning; conducting a community-wide campaign to encourage all Fort Worth children to participate in summer learning programs and organizing a pilot program in the Stop Six neighborhood. Each of the subcommittees set an aggressive 5-month timetable.

Best Practices

Led by (former) United Way’s Chief Impact Officer Marilyn Jones and Tobi Jackson, FWISD Trustee and Executive Director of Fort Worth SPARC, the Best Practices Subcommittee synthesized national research about the common characteristics of effective summer learning programs known to drive early childhood literacy. They cite twelve critical characteristics:

  • Fun, engaging, relevant activities that focus on vocabulary, language acquisition and discussion of book
  • Time to share and communicate
  • Programs that ask children to talk about or write about what they read
  • Scaffolding exercises: I do with you; you do together with others; you do independently
  • Programs that allow children to keep books
  • Peer-to-peer sharing of ideas
  • Creative staff; opportunities for creativity
  • Expanded learning, field trips, enrichment programs
  • Strong parental and/or family involvement and community support
  • Variety of book choices and assistance in creating home libraries
  • Outcome measures that demonstrate positive results toward goal achievement
  • Safe learning environment that builds effective relationships

The team also researched a compilation of education reports to pinpoint possible program implementation challenges including:

  • Access for families with language or transportation needs,
  • Funding for program and support services,
  • Qualified staff, and
  • Parental involvement

Citywide Campaign

Led, by Dr. Gleniece Robinson, a second subcommittee used the Fort Worth Library’s WORTH READING campaign and catalog as a starting point for an expanded effort to promote reading and literacy skills to parents of children ages 4 to 9. The summer campaign and catalog directed families to programs that provided learning experiences that emphasized reading, comprehension, writing, and verbal communication. Fifteen providers submitted program summaries for inclusion in the WORTH READING catalog and web-based program finder. In all, 202 activities were offered.

Materials at each site tied the programs together in that all used bingo-type cards which encouraged participation in a wide variety of literacy activities such as reading to an older adult or reading a graphic novel. Small prizes were awarded at all sites where children in the target group presented their completed squares on the cards. Larger prizes emphasized activities that families could benefit from together, for example, restaurant gift cards and family camping weekends. A summer’s end celebration was planned for all participants.

Stop Six Summer Scholars

LaToya Stewart and Girls Inc.’s Chief Program Director Becky Balarin led the third subcommittee in the development of a free, six-week summer enrichment program for children from three Historic Stop Six elementary schools with chronically-low reading achievement. The pilot program provided an enhanced literacy curriculum to rising first, second and third-grade students who were reading below grade level at end-of-term as assessed by their Lexile Scores.

The program was provided by Girls Inc. and offered at two Boys and Girls Club sites in the Stop Six community. The program used the Girls, Inc. Literacy Framework, a proprietary national curriculum reviewed by FWISD literacy staff. Principals of the target schools were asked to recruit up to 150 students. The program also accepted students enrolled by their parents at the sites. With a facilitator to student ratio of 1:4, weekly lessons were structured for continuity.


Measurement plans for each of the three strategies varied in strength.

  • The Best Practices team emphasized formative evaluation in those monthly meetings with report-outs by team leaders and members built on incremental learning and sharing with the membership of the Summer Learning CAN.
  • The Citywide Campaign team, recognizing that the number of moving parts and aggressive timetable did not allow for a structured evaluation, limited their measurement of success to a Lessons Learned session with the membership of the Summer Learning CAN.
  • The Stop Six Summer Scholars program engaged in both output and outcome measurement, reporting that 58 students enrolled in the program which provided grade-level rotation of students with 1 hour of programming daily for four consecutive days for 6 weeks. Aggregate differences (end of term/beginning of term) in Lexile Scores were to be provided by FWISD by mid-October 2017.

Notable Achievements

  1. The ambitious, aggressive plan succeeded in bringing together a committed group of stakeholders eager to move quickly into becoming a learning lab for summer literacy work for young children in Fort Worth.
  2. The Best Practices Team distilled research and shared best practices in the summer learning space.
  3. The Citywide Campaign expanded WORTH READING into a mechanism that brought together literacy-oriented providers and lifted up their work to the larger community.
  4. The Stop Six Summer Scholars program demonstrated that working together across institutions is a promising practice in addressing the learning needs of hard-to-reach students.

Lessons Learned

  1. Be sure all the right players are at the table.
  2. Include parents representing the formal parent advocacy organizations, parents from the community, and parents of children in summer learning programs.
  3. Make expectations of CAN members explicit.
  4. Recognize that effective work takes time.
  5. Develop organizational design.
  6. Focus on targeted systems changes.
  7. Plan work going forward based on the summer 2017 experience.

Moving Forward

(Pending approval by the CAN in October 2017)

  1. Create an organizational design for the Summer Learning stakeholders/members and in alignment with the FWLP, now READ FORT WORTH
  2. Create programmatic criteria that ensures high quality programming during the summer
    • Using the work of the Best Practices Team, create a rubric describing the essential criteria for improving the literacy of young children during the summer
    • Identify programs that meet the criteria, advocate for resources needed, and promote the programs through the WORTH READING campaign
  3. Create literacy-focused educational opportunities and training for adults who work with young children including parents
    • Identify what is already available and determine what’s missing
    • Seek input from those most affected to understand language issues, including the language of power
    • Promote availability of these educational opportunities and track usage and effectiveness
  4. Create an accountability structure to be able to measure the achievements of the CAN
    • Facilitate the way in which measurement metrics of child success can be shared between youth service providers who have literacy credentials and the FWISD
    • Develop a measurement plan for the desired system changes