Columbus Day has passed, and summer 2016 is in the rear view mirror. Before it fades further, I want to report back to you on the progress of our work for young children since my last posting in June.
Columbus Day has passed, and summer 2016 is in the rear view mirror. Before it fades further, I want to report back to you on the progress of our work for young children since my last posting in June.As you’ll recall, “Summer Learning Loss” describes the phenomenon whereby children lose a significant amount of what they’ve learned during the school year. It’s especially tough on low income kids, who can lose up to 2-3 months’ worth of learning. Even worse (as you can see here), the effects are cumulative and can put children at a significant, and likely permanent, disadvantage.
The good news is that well designed programs make a difference. The better news is that we have several of them here in Worcester, and they’re making an impact. The Summer Literacy Initiative (funded by GWCF, United Way and private donors) expanded again this summer. Family Services of Central Massachusetts operates the program at 15 summer camps in partnership with eight nonprofit partners and three Recreation Worcester parks, with data support and additional literacy coaches provided by the Worcester Public Schools. You can see more (and some pictures), in the Initiative’s 2016 preliminary report.
More than ever, teamwork was the name of the game. Rec Worcester brought scale, a passion for continuing growth, and the enthusiasm of its youth workforce. Family Services shared training, resources, coaches and its experience. Worcester Public Schools further built our bench of outstanding literacy coaches, all of whom are WPS teachers. WPS has also pitched in its student assessment expertise and became the data backbone of the partnership.
Summer learning is a topic that’s rapidly gaining attention, on local radio and TV, and in outlets from The Washington Post and The New York Times to Commonwealth Magazine and The Boston Globe. You’ll notice Boston getting mentioned a lot. That’s OK: their program and ours are based on the same model, created by the “Turnpike United Ways” (Pioneer Valley, Central MA and Mass. Bay).
We’re pleased to see there is a growing national awareness of the importance of early childhood development and understanding of “what to do about it.” We now understand how chronic stress affects children and their families and the consequences of children witnessing domestic and community violence on their individual health and development.
We’re also learning more about how to help. As David Brooks of the New York Times writes, it’s all about relationships. This summer, author and journalist Paul Tough published a highly readable and up-to-the-minute summary of the research and best practices called Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. It’s accessible and succinct (136 pages) and also available free online.
Most importantly, people are getting the message. Cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are getting serious about early education, and the return on investment is becoming clearer every day. Here in Massachusetts business leaders like JD Chesloff of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable are calling for action, and our legislators have taken notice. Unfortunately, commitment (as indicated in our state budget) hasn’t kept up with awareness, but support has held steady. Advocating for more resources is a job we all share.
In addition to eliminating summer learning loss, our early childhood strategy here at GWCF includes supporting early education and strengthening families. Stay tuned for more on these subjects in the coming months. In the meantime, be sure follow us on Facebook for the latest community conversations and news.