The Courier-Journal: Challenge: Kids learning all summer at the YMCA
Summer is typically a time when children spend time taking trips, going to ball games, swimming, visiting relatives, and taking advantage of the many cultural opportunities our community has to offer. Often we see these activities as simply ways to have fun and a much needed break from the rigors of the daily school day grind for our children. Unfortunately, the children who need these activities most are the ones who have the least access to them.
For many kids, summer becomes a time when learning simply stops, and, upon their return to school in the fall, they are several months behind their peers whose learning has continued over the summer due to their participation in the very activities we consider "just fun." We start to see this "summer learning loss" typically in children on the lower socio-economic scale, those who do not have the access to robust learning and cultural opportunities. It's the lack of these experiences and resources that create the achievement gap we are seeing in Louisville and across the country among our most vulnerable students.
The achievement gap can be defined as the disparity in academic performance between groups of students who are considered to be in minority racial/ethnic group or a lower socio-economic group, and their Caucasian counterparts who come from a background of means. The achievement gap shows up in student grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates and college-completion rates, among other success measures.
Early learning is a strong predictor of a child's future success. A student reading on grade level by third grade is far more likely to achieve academically and move on to a post-secondary education.
The YMCA of Greater Louisville has always operated with a strong commitment to education, and over the past three years, we have made a specific commitment to address the achievement gap. We have offered the Black Achievers Program for years in an effort to provide mentors, guidance and paths to scholarship opportunities for minority students. Currently, we offer six evidence-based Summer Learning Programs across the community at Wheatley, Wellington, Shelby, Gutermuth, Lebanon Junction and Shepherdsville Elementary Schools in Jefferson and Bullitt counties. The data collected from these programs has shown us that we are not only stopping summer learning regression, but also seeing significant gains in our students reading level.
We are also operating an evidence based Early Learning Readiness Program designed to help teach caregivers of children not in preschool and in family settings how to play with and nurture their children in a way that prepares them for their first year of school. This program seeks to help children socialize, follow directions, and learn school behaviors that will keep them from starting their academic careers already behind their peers.
This summer, the Y has established our first Power Scholars Academy site at Jacob Elementary in partnership with the BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) Foundation and the YMCA of the USA. This holistic program focuses on strengthening youth academically, physically and emotionally. It includes not only reading and math, but also enrichment activities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the arts.
These three YMCA of the USA signature programs are intent on using a strategy of data collection and assessment to impact the lives of the students in our communities who are most vulnerable.
We see the need and are responding to the call that was given to us over the past two years by more than 500 volunteers, community leaders and members who participated in our strategic planning process. We have incorporated intentional language in our newest three-year vision to ensure that this work stays at the forefront of our movement. Our strategic vision can be viewed by going to ymcalouisville.org and clicking on "Our mission" at the bottom of the page.
We are so excited to be helping to change the academic trajectory of over 450 families in Jefferson and Bullitt Counties, in partnership with Jefferson County and Bullitt County Public Schools, the YMCA of the USA and the BELL Foundation.
Hopefully, we have piqued your interest and perhaps you would be interested in coming to see for yourself the work that is happening everyday in the summer and at our Early Learning Readiness sites in the coming fall. We can always use people who are passionate about education, and love volunteers who want to help children achieve their dreams.
John Lincoln is regional childcare director for YMCA School-Age Child Care.