According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate. That’s why the Dubuque Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which is facilitated by Every Child/Every Promise (ECEP), has focused on summer learning since it started in 2012. Today, hundreds of students across the community benefit from the collaboration of countless organizations partnering to create a robust summer learning environment in Dubuque.
“Partners in the Dubuque Campaign for Grade-Level Reading have built learning opportunities into their summer programs,” said Eric Dregne, executive director of ECEP. “They recognize it is not enough to just keep kids safe and busy; they know we must ensure that they are engaged, learning and supported emotionally.”
Since 2013, the Dubuque Campaign, along with ECEP and the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, have partnered with the Dubuque Community School District to facilitate the Summer Academy. The Summer Academy is free six-week learning experienced designed to give students a literacy-focused morning, combined with afternoon enrichment. Over 27 community partners signed on in 2016 to provide afternoon enrichment programs.
“Strengthening and building relationships between children and their community is essential, and that is what we are able to do when we partner with these organizations,” said Emily Blue, afternoon facilitator for the Summer Academy. “This opportunity for students is filled with learning and fun. At the end of the program, students will have gained new knowledge, skills and lifelong relationships, while also having amazing and memorable experiences.”
St. Mark Youth Enrichment is currently in the midst of its seven-week Summer Heroes Academy. The program serves 142 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in Dubuque and Dyersville and focuses on growth in literacy and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) skills, social-emotional development and family engagement. St. Mark utilizes licensed teachers to implement its quality curriculum and in 2015, 95% of its students maintained or improved their reading proficiency. It also relies on community partners including the Dubuque Museum of Art, the Boys and Girls Club, Sinsinawa Mounds, Swiss Valley Nature Center, Four Mounds and others to make the program successful.
“Collaboration with community partners is what makes our program so successful,” said Dawn Cogan, executive director of St. Mark Youth Enrichment. “More than 50 community partners offer hands-on enrichment activities on-site and as field trip opportunities that might not otherwise be available to our families. Many of these experiences are transformational for our students.”
The Dubuque Dream Center is another organization providing quality learning opportunities during the summer months to kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The Dream Center provides programming for its students and their families throughout the summer and the entire year, including an academic center, sports, dance team, meals and more. This summer, 130 young people are enrolled in the Dream Center’s high-quality summer learning experience, with another 30 on a waiting list.
“The Dubuque Dream Center appreciates the opportunity to collaborate and partner with organizations in the Dubuque Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. We believe it truly takes a village to impact a child,” said Robert Kimble, executive director of the Dubuque Dream Center. “The Dream Center’s strategy to impact youth and strengthen families begins with our In Your Life Mentoring System that connects caring adults to impact youth. We focus on education in our academic center and structured activities in our program academy including sports, music and a meal mentoring program.”
The Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA’s “Cool School” summer program is working to instill a love of reading in the 92 elementary school students who attend. Each week focuses on a different theme and the program partners with community organizations to bring in speakers as well as taking students on field trips to other locations.
“Community collaborations have helped make our summer program a rich experience for our Cool School students,” said Teresa Fisher, director of licensed childcare at the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA. “We are very fortunate to live in a community that supports our endeavors.”
The City of Dubuque’s Leisure Services Departments has partnered with many of these organizations, including St. Mark and Summer Academy, to help make summer learning happen in our community. In addition, Leisure Services also provides a free summer program to youth in our community. Three years ago, through its involvement with the Campaign, they started incorporating learning opportunities into the playground program. Through a partnership with AmeriCorps Partners in Learning, the revised summer program was able to reach over 500 children in low-income areas. In summer 2017, Leisure Services plans to expand these learning opportunities to all playground sites, reaching nearly 1,000 children.
The Carnegie-Stout Public Library, a GLR Network partner, also keeps kids reading all summer long with its Summer Reading Program. Youth sign up at the library and receive a reading log, where they can log their reading hours throughout the summer. Incentives and prizes are provided at different levels, which keeps kids engaged and excited about reading during the summer months.
“A lot of these programs have waiting lists because of limited capacity, so there is definitely a need to provide resources to expand these current programs or offer more opportunities,” said Dregne. “There are so many great programs in our community; this is just a small sampling. I’m so proud of the work that the GLR partners are doing to help keep kids learning all summer long.”