The Transformation of Summer School

Summer school is changing its image from a rigorous exercise in catch-up for under performing students to an enriching experience for kids at every level of success. This great article in the New York Times explains that 25% of the largest school districts in the country are providing cutting-edge summer programs for their students. These programs aren’t just academic; they focus on the arts and vocational studies as well. Research shows that, “students regress during the summer, losing an average of about one month of instruction per year, with the so-called summer slide disproportionately affecting low-income children.” With school districts like Chicago suffering from “fiscal woes” and financial cuts in the CPS, the NYT states: “education officials have enlisted the support of philanthropic organizations that believe keeping children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in school during the summer may help level the playing field for poor and more affluent students.”

This article seemed relevant to share, as I visited EPIC Academy in the South Chicago neighborhood this week with Urban Gateways, where they currently are hosting a number of summer programs. We interviewed students who were working on a project to re-imagine their Main Street, creating original storefronts to improve their neighborhood. Many students stated that there isn’t much to do in their community. Creating a place for people to gather, to have fun within walking distance of their homes, even if only in their classroom, was satisfying. Student-run store fronts ranged from an 80’s arcade and clothing store, to a pet and music store hybrid.

A majority of kids at the EPIC Academy said they enrolled in summer school just to have something to do this season as opposed to sitting at home. They wanted to be productive and gain new skills, using these programs as resume-building activities and a chance to learn new software skills. Some students mentioned that their parents would have kept them at home to ensure their safety from gang violence if they weren’t in a summer program. Fortunately a program such as Imagine Main Street provided them with a safe outlet.

Places like EPIC and other schools in the NYT article are serving as a model for our educational system. These summer programs are proven to keep students engaged in learning throughout the year, and expanding their experiences beyond the normal classroom structures.