This holiday season, several local children are enjoying the gift of reading thanks to an innovative program that took place last summer.
In June, a group of dedicated organizations led by St. Mark Youth Enrichment and a committee of partners facilitated by the Community Foundation’s Every Child/Every Promise Initiative launched the Summer Academy, a pilot program focused on maintaining or increasing the reading proficiency of students over summer break.
Rather than simply “keep kids busy,” Summer Academy offered a combination of school learning and summer fun. The goal was to help students learn while also giving them the opportunity to experience new activities through Dubuque’s rich array of summer programming.
The program implemented summer learning best practices including hiring certified teachers and teaching assistants, utilizing AmeriCorps VISTAs to support a very low student to staff ratio of 5:1, and creating a research-based curriculum. The result was a model that begins to address community needs and can be replicated throughout Dubuque and surrounding communities.
To assist in evaluating the Summer Academy, organizers gathered data on reading performance and other key indicators, as well as survey feedback from students, parents, staff and partner providers. Key findings include:
- 84% of students maintained or improved reading skills based on DIBELS results
- Parents chose Summer Academy for many reasons but the most common reasons related to the focus on academics
- Parents and students reported that students read regularly during the summer in many forms
- Families want to return next year and all families and partners would recommend the program to other families
- The majority of staff (75%) would work at the Summer Academy in the future
- Staff enjoyed their time with students and felt that they established quality relationships with their students
- Students had many enjoyable, new experiences through the enrichment portion of Summer Academy
- Parents indicated that they would prefer Summer Academy days to be eight or nine hours long, which fits many adults’ work schedules
Teachers, counselors and principals referred students completing kindergarten, first and second grades to the program. A total of 47 students with varying reading abilities participated in the pilot program; of those, 89% qualified for free/reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty. Audubon and Marshall elementary schools had the highest representation of students. Students from Fulton, Prescott, Lincoln and Sageville elementary schools also participated.
The Summer Academy was offered to families using a sliding fee scale. Based on their incomes, most participating families did not pay to take part in the program.
The Summer Academy was funded by an Every Child/Every Promise grant from the City of Dubuque, a grant from the Dubuque Racing Association, and a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. In-kind support came from the St. Mark Youth Enrichment, the Boys and Girls Club and many providers who supported the afternoon enrichment activities.