Summer learning programs show results

As originally published in the Our Towns section of The State Journal Register.

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Next month, on February 23, United Way of Central Illinois will host its annual Community Report and Awards Breakfast at the Wyndham Springfield City Centre. The event will be a celebration of the annual campaign and our volunteer leadership. However, unlike our previous annual meetings, this breakfast will focus on the results of our work and the successes our programs are having in addressing our community’s priorities.

Naturally, United Way is only half-way through its funding year, so the results we are able to share next month will not provide a complete reporting of progress and outcomes. However, we’re confident the results and stories we are able to share will show the effectiveness and importance of our local programs. This week, I thought I would give readers a preview of some of the results we are seeing.

As you know, our United Way focuses on addressing community-identified priorities in the areas of Basic Needs, Education, Financial Stability and Health. Each of these areas are interrelated and improving the quality of life for everyone in our community requires progress in each.

As you know, education is a cornerstone for success in school, work and life. It also benefits the whole community: high school graduates have higher earning potential, contribute more to their local economies, are more engaged in their communities, and are more likely to raise kids who also graduate on time.

Based on community feedback, our United Way takes a comprehensive approach to education. Our priorities are rather simple to understand, we want to

– makes sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed,
– stay on track in elementary and middle school, and
– earn their high school diploma with a solid plan for their future.

This is why United Way is investing more than $690,000 in education programs this year – local programs which produce results.

One of the greatest challenges to keeping children on track is what educators refer to as summer learning loss. Summer learning loss is when young people lose academic skills over the summer, and it is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth. Studies have shown that most students lose about two months of math skills over the summer. Additionally, these studies have shown that low-income students lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains over the summer. This not only creates a disparity between student achievements, but also forces our educators to spend a large portion of the beginning of the school year, re-teaching previous learned material.

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Moreover, the results of summer learning loss are cumulative; meaning that by fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students significantly behind their peers. This is the reason why United Way’s Education Vision Council recommended a $166,000 investment into four summer learning programs last year.

– Boys & Girls Clubs – Project Learn,
– Compass for Kids – Camp Compass,
– Springfield Urban League – Freedom School, and
– UCP Land of Lincoln – Learning Without Limits Summer Camp

Together, these four programs provided more than 13,000 hours of formal academic instruction to nearly 300 at-risk children in our community. The children attending these programs come from predominately low-income families, with 228 children coming from households with incomes less than 50 percent of the median family income in our area. In addition to children from lower-income families, these programs serve a number of children with social, emotional or other developmental delays.

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These four programs not only focus on structured learning, but also focus on family involvement to increase successful outcomes. In fact, these programs have put in place metrics to track family interactions to help make sure families are involved in the programs and in their children’s’ education.

The results being produced by our summer learning programs are impressive. Sixty-eight percent of these children not only retained but demonstrated growth in reading skills. Likewise, 67 percent of these children achieved growth in math skills.

Thanks to our community’s support, we are breaking the cycle in which most low income children lose two to three months of math and reading skills over the summer. Together, we are helping to make sure more of our children are staying on track and are better prepared as they transition from grade to grade.

I can’t wait to share more results from our programs at next month’s breakfast and I hope each of you can join us.