Many celebrate summer as a break from school and learning.
But this past week, kids and educators nationwide celebrated National Summer Learning Week.
Locally, over 800 summer camp children attended the “Stepping Up for Summer Learning” event at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline — the largest summer learning celebration in Iowa and Illinois.
The celebration, which ran from July 11 to 15, was launched by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) — a nationwide nonprofit investing in summer learning to help close the achievement gap.
Spring Forward, a local after-school and summer camp program, partnered with the NSLA to host Monday’s event. Dan McNeil, the program’s director, wants people to understand that there’s an industry of summer learning — one that involves school districts, nonprofits and others who hope to keep kids engaged during the summer.
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Over 800 QC summer camp children attended the “Stepping Up for Summer Learning” event to kick off National Summer Learning Week on Monday, July 11. This was the largest summer learning celebration in Iowa and Illinois.
“We work with so many partners who offer so much,” he said. “We had close to 60 teachers that worked our camps; we’re focused on summer learning, so those certified teachers are important. A good summer program combines academics with camp activities, games, play, and we try to do that to the best of our ability.”
The Rock Island Public Library runs a summer reading challenge from the beginning of June to the end of July, where participants can earn activity badges and prizes after completing reading goals.
Lisa Lockheart, outreach liaison for the library, said nationwide celebrations like National Summer Learning Week emphasized the importance of continuing to learn and read during the summer months.
“I think the national attention really does reinforce the importance that, while summer is for fun, learning can also be fun,” she said. “Leaning is something that needs to continue … and there are all different types of learning going on in the events we offer.”
Lockheart said the goal of the summer reading challenge was to have all participants read 100,000 minutes. Last she checked, participants had read 235,780 minutes.
Sheri Peacock is the associate superintendent of student achievement for the East Moline School District. Her role coordinates all internal or collaborative summer programming for the district.
Peacock views summer learning as a worthwhile and rewarding investment.
“Anyone in the community, whether you’re a taxpayer or business owner, can invest in summer learning. Either donating, volunteering or just being aware it’s happening in your community because these are your students,” she said. “If you invest in kids now, they’ll be the ones who will take care of the community. It will pay off not only now, but in the future.”
Lockheart said the collaboration between summer learning programs and organizations shone a spotlight on how valuable of an investment summer learning was.
“It really makes a statement about the resources that we have available in our community, and we love participating in it,” she said. “We all bring something to the table and the more we work together, the better off we are.”
Partnerships between summer programs and school districts are beneficial, too, said Two Rivers YMCA Camp Director Cami Ill.
“A lot of that loss happens over the summer when kids don’t have access to books or things they can use to keep up. We partner with districts so we can identify kids who might need some extra help,” she said.
Ill said she was happy to see so many new faces this summer as the world of education still recovered from the pandemic.
“This summer felt a little more natural. They’ve had a year of going back to school,” she said. “I was happy we were able to get back to normal and take more kids — because the need was there.”
McNeil and Peacock agree that summer learning programs expand access to academic achievement — and fun — for all student demographics.
“Summer is sometimes considered the most unequal time in America because a lot of our kids don’t have the same experiences as their more affluent peers. Some families are going on vacations or have sports, but some kids aren’t,” McNeil said. “Our camps are about equity, making sure every child has an amazing summer experience.”
Sometimes, summer learning programs provide kids with experiences that expand their worldview.
“Let’s say someone came over from the Putnam to do a program. It might have touched upon something one of the children sitting in that room is passionate about — they might be the next museum curator,” Peacock said. “You can open the world up for a child through these experiences.”
McNeil said Spring Forward was wrapping up its summer program with a pool party Sunday at Whitewater Junction in Rock Island. Campers and their families who attended at least 80% of the camp will be eligible to participate — because just like school, summer learning attendance is important.
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