Bright Spots: Summer Scholars Collaborative returns in 2020

The Summer Scholars Collaborative (SSC) returns in 2020 with 11 programs reaching thousands of young learners across Greater Fort Worth. Each program incorporates reading and writing components into its summer programming, with a goal of ensuring students maintain or improve in reading skills going into the next school year.

While several of the programs returning to the SSC have adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including offering virtual options, supporting a child’s reading performance over the summer remains the same. Many of the SSC camps start in June and run into July and August.

IMG 4838Last year, more than 3,000 students participated in a summer learning program as part of the SSC. Overall, 12 SSC partners at more than 60 sites helped students tackle “summer slide” by gaining or maintaining their reading scores.

“A person’s ability to read, at least at third-grade level, is crucial quality of life indicator,” according to Gleniece Robinson, director of educational strategies for the City of Fort Worth. “Typically, without deliberate intervention, children can lose reading skills obtained during the school year.

“This summer, reading intervention is even more critical given children have been out of the classroom and the results of digital instruction that was provided not yet known. Therefore, the City’s 100×25 Reading Instruction Program is important in bridging the gap.”

The City’s 100×25 initiative will operate onsite Reading Instruction Programs at 19 community centers and two mobile recreation sites for approximately 750 children ages 5-13. Enrollment is capped this year for health reasons after serving about 2,500 students last year.

Clayton Youth Enrichment, another returning SSC program, has also felt the effects of the pandemic on its normal camp efforts. The organization’s TEA-funded 21st Century initiative hopes to serve around 300 elementary-age youth across Fort Worth ISD this summer.

“If education is freedom, then literacy is the backbone to that freedom, especially for youth,” Clayton Director of Programs Robert Hamilton shared. “Out-of-school-time providers like Clayton have a responsibility to continue the education of youth throughout the summer by providing positive experiences, academic enrichment and social emotional learning. Summer programs provide a great opportunity for youth to build a love for reading and active learning that is different from the traditional school day.”

P1010991Key School of Fort Worth, in its first year with the SSC, offers reading-related classes taught by certified academic language therapists who have received extensive training in the development of oral and written language. Key School’s individualized learning program is ideal for students who simply need an academic boost for the coming year or for those who are struggling and experiencing difficulty with reading.

Though it’s new to the SSC, Key School has taught reading, phonics and math to thousands of students each summer, enabling them to dramatically improve performance since its founding in 1966.

“Students that do not participate in formal literacy programs or read regularly during the summer, are in danger of a decline in their reading abilities,” explained Chad Meeks, Key School Assistant Director. “Participation in quality summer reading programs leads to improved reading skills and increased confidence for students in all subjects for the coming school year.”

Returning SSC program Camp Fire is running one summer camp at the Diamond Hill Station on the Northside. The camp, limited to 20 participants to meet CDC guidelines for social distancing, incorporates literacy daily through a whole language approach in child-centric environment.  A variety of opportunities promote literacy through reading and writing in functional ways, such as environmental print using student-made posters and charts, journaling and project presentations. Older youth lead games and STEM activities for small groups, reading and following directions with staff oversight.  There is time in the schedule each day for teacher read-alouds and independent reading.

“We feel it is important to offer a fun and educational summer program to keep students engaged in learning and this year even more so as the impact of COVID-19 on student achievement is expected to increase the typical summer learning loss,” said Cathy Halliday, Camp Fire Vice President of Youth Development. “We know that children have missed interacting with friends during this time and our we will address those feelings as well during day camp. Social Emotional Learning is the framework of our programming and is incorporated into every activity through Youth Work Methods and Conscious Discipline techniques.”

Fort Worth SPARC, running in July, aims to reach 84 students with a faculty comprised of FWISD teachers. Students will receive summer enrichment in science, math, literacy and online learning skills delivered solely via a virtual classroom.

“Fort Worth SPARC strengthens after-school programs through advocacy, resources and collaboration,” SPARC Executive Director Tobi Jackson said. “In collaboration with Fort Worth Independent School District and Core 21 Educational services, SPARC invites Fort Worth teachers to join Camp SPARC 2020. Camp SPARC provides innovative instruction for students and cutting-edge professional development for teachers.”

AB Christian Learning Center’s is working to bring its six-week Freedom School summer learning program to as many students as possible. Since so many students haven’t had access to a structured academic education since March, the Freedom School’s program includes reading, math and science. Embedded in the program is a transition component of what students can expect at the next grade level in the fall, along with some aspect of online learning.

“The achievement gap among low income and/or students of color could possibly be further widen by decisions made to transition students to an on-line learning system, and how that process is implemented,” AB Christian Executive Director Loretta Burns said. “The achievement gap, as defined by unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities, is evident in the digital divide among low-income families and/or students of color.

“After the sudden onset of Covid-19 and its aftermath, AB Christian Learning Center learned immediately from families we serve in our after school program that online learning was a concept that could not easily be adapted in many households. There were many challenges to on-line learning, some of which included no access to internet or computers, no adult supervision because parents needed to work, no understanding of how the technology worked. Families were very concerned about the possibilities of their children having no access to education, and desperately sought alternatives.”

AB Christian is creating a parent engagement component to introduce parents to online learning so they can better support their children during the school year.

Read Fort Worth, in conjunction with SSC partners, is tracking the literacy skills of FWISD students from K-3rd grade who are participating in the summer programs. Read Fort Worth and partners co-created a toolkit of research-validated resources to incorporate literacy instruction into each day of camp.

A complete list of programs available for students this summer is available at http://readfortworth.org/summer-scholars/.

Story by Art Garcia