Special education teacher Lisa Elam high-fives Michael Carter, 13, after he made a visor during summer camp at Robinson Junior High School.
Between a cacophony of answers students shouted to William White about a book projected on the Reynolds Elementary School's library wall, one young boy, ready to move on, raised his hand and made an unrelated, but certainly welcome request.
"Now can we pick out a book?" the boy asked.
"Nope," Mr. White said. He'd have to wait.
"Aww ..." the boy said, defeated.
If every student at the YMCA/JCC of Greater Toledo's summer program develops the same desire to read, the fledgling system will greatly increase its chances of success. The nonprofit ventured into the academic arena this year, serving as Toledo Public Schools' summer-school provider at a trio of locations. Students rotate between noon and 2 p.m. through arts and crafts, physical activities, and a reading program developed and run by local nonprofit Partners in Education. The program is one of about a half dozen the YMCA is running across the city, three of which are in a Toledo Public Schools building.
"It's about getting kids continuing to read in the summer," YMCA food program administrator Lori Thompson said.
Toledo Public Schools was more active than normal this summer. The district is building a piecemeal system of summer programming to combat "summer slide," the loss of knowledge over summer break that hits low-income students particularly hard.
Almost none of the programming is funded by the district's general operating funds. Instead, grants and user fees pay for most of the TPS provided camps and classes, while partnerships with Toledo nonprofits have stepped in at other places.
Though most educators lament how much students from low-income communities regress over the summer compared to peers who receive more academic enrichment at home over those months, not all summer programs provide the same benefit, and school districts on tight budgets -- such as Toledo's -- have either scaled back or been hesitant to start large-scale, formalized summer programs.
"We know there's a need there," TPS chief academic officer Jim Gault said. "But a lot of it comes down to dollars and cents."
Back to summer school
Instructor William White and Elmer Valquez lead a discussion of the day’s book in the Kidz!Lit class as part of the summer program at Reynolds.
Two of the programs are reincarnations of previously cut remediation and credit recovery efforts. About 400 high school students enrolled in summer school, which was brought back after a two-year hiatus thanks to a new, cheaper computer-based format. Students pay a fee to make up courses they failed. The district also will hold a two-week program in August for students who scored below proficient on state third-grade reading tests.
TPS used a similar program in past years and saw success, but axed it to save money. Called "jump start," administrators brought the intervention back last summer and moved it to August; previously it was offered right after the school year ended.
A new two-week English as a Second Language camp will be held in August at Garfield and Leverette elementary schools.
Perhaps the most formal district offering is at elementary schools that received federal School Improvement Grants. Pickett, Glenwood, and Robinson were required as part of the grant to extend learning time. Some lengthened the school day, and chose shorter summer camps, while others chose longer camps.
At Robinson, programming was looser, in part to keep student interest during a time many kids consider their vacation. Students visited a farm, the Toledo Zoo, swam at the Boys & Girls Club, and on the last day of camp, went either to Cedar Point or exhausted themselves and teachers on bounce castles and huge inflatable slides.
But in most of those activities were built-in lessons that were expounded upon during the rest of the camp; younger students built their own books about animals after the zoo and farm visits, for instance. Teachers used the colors of the rainbow to teach diet variety, with posters hung in the cafeteria. Students met with physically disabled visitors. Older students learned financial tips.
Staff from the school ran the camp, and linked some of the activities to those used during the year. For instance, students built stepping stones for a community garden constructed as a science project during the year. And all students joined together every day for a school-wide morning meeting, a social-skills development tool where students greet each other and talk about their days.
Perhaps the teachers' favorite part of the summer camp was that they met and developed relationships with students they'll have in the fall.
"These three weeks really let us bond with these kids," special education teacher Lisa Elam said. "We actually got to know them."
Funding for those camps, however, will run out with the grant, which at most will run for two more years.
Fighting summer slide
Melissa Avalos, right, site coordinator of the summer program at Reynolds Elementary, plays ‘Simon Says’ with several kids including Elysa Oman, front of line, Jashon Garrett, and Victor Vasquez.
Expanding summer offerings to combat summer slide wasn't a named part of the TPS' transformation plan, but Mr. Gault said it was an unspoken element. The district's focus on developing and strengthening partnerships with such groups as the United Way, Boys and Girls Club, and the YMCA, was an acknowledgement that TPS couldn't afford to pay for everything it wanted, including summer school.
For the YMCA, much of the original impetus for its involvement, and the magnet the organization uses to draw children, is childhood hunger. Impoverished kids get access to free food at schools during the academic year, but food availability drops off over the summer months.
The YMCA has 32 sites this summer across the city where it's providing daily meals to children; 18 of those sites are TPS schools that are holding some sort of summer programming. The organization is serving about 1,500 free meals a day.
The three TPS sites run sessions from mid-June until mid-August, effectively the whole summer. The YMCA programming isn't TPS exclusive; it's joined by other community organizations, such as JLJ Vision Outreach, and programs housed at TPS are open to all children in the area.
The cost for food is reimbursed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Programming costs the YMCA about $150,000, which it raised specifically for the summer sessions. Beyond the financial struggle for the YMCA is the need to move summer programs beyond simply free food and a safe space and into academic development. The involvement of Partners in Education, who do the reading classes and will perform pre and post-tests on participants, has helped the YMCA's first real foray into being a summer school provider in Toledo.
"[We hope] not only to keep them safe, but develop them and move them forward," said Todd Tibbits, YMCA president and CEO.
So far, summer programs at the elementary school -- both those done by TPS and the YMCA -- have suffered from low attendance levels. The Reynolds Elementary program averages about 60 students a day, at a school that started in the fall with about 400 students. Of 125 students signed up for the Robinson camp, about 70 came.
The struggle to entice students into summer programs is a common one, research shows, especially for nascent ones. And TPS has yet to commit to a comprehensive plan for summer programming; Mr. Gault said the district is hesitant to throw its weight behind anything that ,while promising, is unproven.
With only 18 out of 51 schools running summer programming, though, the district is looking to expand. But it just doesn't know where yet.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6086.