April 15, 2019

Summer Spark helps kids stay sharp outside the classroom

Kids and adults look at materials during summer programs

As summer vacation approaches, children living in-low income homes are at greater risk of succumbing to summer slide — the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the school year.

Over time, these gaps continue to grow.

By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged children are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.

According to M-STEP, Michigan’s standardized test designed to gauge how students are mastering state standards, only 44 percent of Michigan third-graders are reading at grade level. In Detroit, that number is 15 percent.

As a result, Michigan legislation will require students to repeat third-grade if they can’t read proficiently by the end of the school year. This legislation will take effect for the 2019-20 school year.

Child looks at computer board during summer programs

“Schools are not equipped to deal with this new legislation. We knew that we had to step in and work with schools and community leaders to create strategies that will benefit both the institutions and the students,” says Tammie Jones, vice president of education at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “It isn’t fair to our children to deny them of resources, yet demand results.”

Affordable summer programs

That’s why we’re working to improve childhood literacy rates through various strategies, including Summer Spark, a digital tool supported by United Way and powered by the Youth Development Resource Center. Summer Spark helps parents find affordable, quality care for their children during summer vacation.

Rather than searching on individual camp websites or wading through brochures, parents can enter their criteria to find program matches. Parents can search by their children’s age, interests and schedule. There are more than 200 programs available — enough to fit the needs of most any family.

Boys and girls draw with chalk during summer programs

“We know that summer can be a time of great need for families seeking to feed their children’s bodies and minds over the summer break,” says Tammie. “This digital portal makes it easy for families to utilize resources that are already in their communities. It will help children stay sharp all summer long.”

Summer Spark helps ensure children are better equipped to enter the new school year prepared to learn. Activities focus on academic enrichment, life skills, leadership, STEM skills and more. The program will also improve children’s health and wellness and develop their academic and social-emotional skills. Programs are offered in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

“There is still more work to be done,” Jones said. “But we know that when we put children first, we’re on the right track.”