May 25, 2018

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.

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 and Economic prosperity and 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 the launch of Summer Spark, a new digital tool created with the Youth Development Resource Center to help parents find affordable, quality care for their children during summer vacation.

Rather than searching on individual summer camp websites or wading through brochures, parents can enter their criteria to find potential program matches. Parents can search by their children’s age, interests and schedule.

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 pilot will give us great insight into where the needs are. 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 activities focus on sports, science and math to help ensure children are better equipped to enter the new school year prepared to learn. It will also increase their 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.”