The Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology in West Oak Lane offers a six-week summer camp. (Photo: Harvey Finkle)
Costs can be daunting
For families like Talitha’s, the challenge is finding a program that fits their schedule, pocketbook, and child’s needs.
Leslie Gibson’s daughter Paisley Gibson-White, 8, also will attend the PCAT summer camp. Like Graham, she looked for something that included an explicit learning component.
“I wanted to see something project-based, something where she was applying some skills,” Gibson said. Last year, Gibson had pulled Paisley from a different camp. “Trips got canceled, and when I would ask her what she had done, she would say, ‘We just played,’” she said.
Camp will cost them $600 for six weeks, ending in mid-August, about three weeks before the start of most District-run and charter schools. “It’s a juggle of time and financial resources,” said Gibson, “but it’s a great benefit.”
But other families find the camp costs daunting. Marsettis Jackson of Overbrook said her daughter – a single mother of two girls and a boy – cannot afford the fees. “When you have three children, it adds up to a lot of money. And the places you can afford – they’re cheap but not safe,” she said. Plus, she said, camp hours aren’t long enough to accommodate a working parent.
Several generations of Jacksons pitch in to watch over the children, ages 7, 9, and 13, who will spend most weekdays with their 80-year-old great-grandmother. To keep skills sharp, all three will have books to read and reports to write – assignments from their teachers at Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School.
“Every year, looking for a camp, something for them to do, it’s a dilemma,” said the children’s grandfather, Bob Jackson.
The District scaled back summer operations in 2012, and this summer will be no different. There will be courses for seniors a few credits shy of graduation, extended services for special-education students whose Individualized Education Plan requires them, and so-called summer bridge programs for rising 9th graders at a few high schools with U.S. Department of Labor funds.
But the scope of the programming is “teeny, teeny,” said Vicki Ellis, who oversees the effort in the District’s Office of Academic Enrichment and Support.
In 2010, the year that an average of 33,000 to 36,000 attended daily, the District analyzed outcomes for a sampling of attendees. “If kids attended SLAM, we showed statistically significantly less learning loss,” said Ellis.
By last year, the stimulus money was gone and so was SLAM.
Not a luxury
Gary Huggins, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association, said some districts have embraced summer instruction not as “an extra or a luxury” but as essential to meeting college-readiness goals.
The trend is toward a “new vision” of summer school. “You have to attract kids to your program. Academic rigor matters, but so does having fun,” said Huggins.
The Pittsburgh school district, for example, decided to “flip the punitive summer school model on its head” and mix “exciting academics” with fun activities, according to Christine Cray, director of the Summer Dreamers Academy.
The program last year served 2,300 K-8 students – almost 10 percent of total K-12 enrollment, at a cost of about $1,200 per student. It’s funded with federal Title I money plus local and national foundation support.
“We’re cheaper hour per hour than [remediation] during the regular school year, and we’re getting great results,” said Cray.
Even if resources are tight, district and city leaders can “communicate with the public about the importance of keeping kids engaged over the summer,” Huggins said. In Chicago, for instance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is spearheading a public-private “Summer of Learning” initiative, including badges that children can flash on field trips to accrue electronic credits toward prizes.
Teachers also can warn parents about the perils of “summer slide” at end-of-school-year meetings.
That’s how a kindergarten teacher convinced Princetta Rogers to find programs for her three children. The younger two, Faith, 15, and Josiah, 10, will attend camp at Morrison Elementary School in the Olney section for a second summer.
“A lot of what they learn … if the brain doesn’t continue to pull in academic information over the summer, they lose that learning,” said Rogers.
Last summer, children at Morrison researched how cars are put together, then built a go-cart big enough for one of the smaller campers to operate. “They had to use the computer in an advanced way and write with comprehension about what they learned,” Rogers said. “It was fantastic for the guys, and the girls were interested too.”
“We make sure our kids are safe and engaged in fun activities and that learning continues through the summer,” said Charline Kent, who oversees Morrison and two other afterschool/summer programs for Korean Community Development Services. “You make it fun. They want to be here.”
“Summer,” said Huggins, of the National Summer Learning Association, “represents a great break from school. But it shouldn’t be a break from learning.”