I spent my summer with 45 middle school students -swimming, playing soccer, practicing yoga, providing community service and reviewing ELA and Math skills. As the Director of AIP’s Summer Spot, a summer learning program held at the Frederick Pilot Middle School, this is how I’ve spent the last 15 summers! Summer Spot students are referred by their classroom teachers and school social workers to receive additional academic social and emotional support in July and August. Summer learning programs like Summer Spot can help to minimize and even close the achievement and opportunity gaps that affect many low-income public school students.
Summer learning programs are a great way for students to smoothly transition into their next grade. They can also help participants to make new friends and to explore other aspects of their personalities. I’ve seen students like Mariah, who was really and shy and quiet during the school year, become outgoing and exuberant in the summer program. Mariah was one of our regular Student of the Day winners and she participated in all of our Field Day challenges, with confidence and a sense of humor.
Summer learning programs also build academic skills and help youth develop and improve their social skills, expose them to new opportunities and often provide many fun engaging activities and field trips. Twice a week I take Summer Spot students to the swimming pool at the Melnea Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury. This is one of the highlights of the summer for our students and our staff. Keeping students mentally and physically active and promoting peer relationships develops key social-emotional learning skills, which are crucial for academic, interpersonal and career success.
The Summer Spot teachers try to engage the students with a curriculum that is relevant and engaging with many opportunities for a variety of teaching and learning formats – individual, small group, research, presentation and reflection. To ensure that the Summer Spot learning environment was student-centered with opportunities for youth choice and youth voice, our ELA students learned about youth activists and social justice to plan and implement their own community change efforts. When students feel that the concepts and skills they’re being taught are applicable to real life experiences, they have increased motivation to learn. Developing opportunities for youth choice and youth voice results in projects and activities that are youth-led and that help develop creativity and critical thinking.
Trying to find the right program or mix of programs for your students can be a challenge. Different schools have different needs, so it’s important to evaluate the available programs to find the best fit for your students. Look for high-energy staff who create environments of joy and celebration and who genuinely love interacting with youth. Find out if the programs offer field trips, partnerships or other novel experiences. Safety is the most important aspect so be sure that all staff have approved criminal background checks and have been trained in CPR and First Aid. Low staff to student ratios are typically preferable. What is the program capacity, and how do students get enrolled? Think about other program aspects that are important to you and your students and find the programs that fit their needs and interests. Is arts instruction and exposure important to you? How much physical activity to you want your students to have? Do you want your students to be able to visit different neighborhoods of the city or to have opportunities to spend time outside of the city?
Summer learning programs that are intentionally planned to include project-based learning, fun enrichment activities, student celebrations and positive, caring adult staff are meaningful at every stage of youth development. We fit work and play into each day and let students know that it’s important to keep learning and to continue building their brains in the summer. Our afternoons at the swimming pool, ice cream sundae celebrations and Friday field trips to local lakes and beaches make for great summer experiences and future memories for the students, the staff – and for me!