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Op-Ed: Student Success Begins in the Summer

In a news conference recently detailing President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to Congress, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said, “There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better at school.” (Qiu, 2017) This was to justify why the administration had eliminated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant program in their budget proposal. The 21st CCLC program provides federal funding for the establishment of afterschool and summer learning programs that provide academic enrichment opportunities for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children. (US Department of Education, 2017)

Many of us remember our summers spent as young children fondly. From family vacations at the beach to enriching summer camps to summer reading competitions at the local library; all ensured our learning continued uninterrupted during our three-month break from school. Unfortunately, many of our students currently living in poverty in Northern Kentucky will not have those same fond memories. Much of their summer is spent without literacy and math resources, without enriching activities and mostly alone as parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet. In addition, many students will be hungry without the support of meals received at school. Covington Partners is working to change that reality for students in Covington Independent Public Schools.

According to research from Johns Hopkins University, “low-income youth lose more than two months in reading achievement over summer vacation, while their middle-class counterparts make small gains in reading achievement.” (Klein, 2013) They also estimate that up to two thirds of the 9th grade achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss. It is important to note that 90% of the approximately 4,000 students who attend Covington Independent Public Schools qualify for the federal Free and/or Reduced Price Lunch program – a national arbiter of poverty in schools. This is the highest concentration of school poverty in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. While this presents many unique barriers to learning; school officials, teachers, parents and the community believe that ALL students are capable of greatness if they provided the resources they need to be successful. This is where Covington Summer Scholars comes in.

Covington Summer Scholars is a collaborative effort between Covington Partners, Covington Independent Public Schools, the City of Covington and many other youth-serving organizations to provide a high-quality and effective summer learning program for students. The program operates for 5 weeks, 5 days per week, 5 hours per day and provides academic support, youth development and fitness activities to over 600 students on an annual basis. The experience is led by a cross-sector leadership team comprised of school staff, city staff and representatives from multiple community organizations including the Kenton County Public Library and the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington. This group meets regularly to review data and ensure the program adheres to national best-practice standards. And the work is paying off.

When analyzing student percentile change on the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP, i) assessment administered in the Spring of 2016 and the Fall of 2016 – students who regularly attended the Covington Summer Scholars program showed no summer learning loss in either reading or math, they showed summer learning GROWTH! In the content area of Reading, students in 2012 showed an average percentile decline of 7%. In 2016, students showed an average percentile gain of 4%. In the content area of Math, students in 2012 showed an average percentile decline of 5%. In 2016, students showed an average percentile gain of 4%. (ii)

These results come from the hard work of dedicated individuals including Community Learning Center Site Coordinators, teachers, community partners and parents who believe this work is key to supporting their child’s academic progress.

Covington is an amazing and unique community, made up of all types of individuals and all types of businesses. What is truly amazing is when a diverse community can come together to give its children a better future and that is exactly what our community is doing when they support Covington Summer Scholars. Investments from the federal, state, local and individual levels are critical to ensuring work like this continues. The most important investment we can make is in our children and making that investment now will lead to a bright and prosperous future for us all.

Tom Haggard is the Resource Development Coordinator for Covington Partners, an organization dedicated to removing barriers to learning for students in Covington Independent Public Schools.

i - MAP is a norm-referenced measure of student growth over time. MAP assessments, joined with other data points, provide detailed, actionable data about where each child is on his or her unique learning path.

ii - Data refers to students who attended the Covington Summer Scholars program regularly (10 times or more).