From Jerri Haigler, Executive Director for the Carolinas, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life):
Summer is here! And while that means a break welcomed by students and families, we have a responsibility to our children. Our commitment – especially to those students who are struggling to catch up and succeed in school – is to ensure that summer time is not wasted, boring, or unsafe.
Our challenge is to create opportunities for learning for all those who can’t afford or access structured learning activities in the summer. Kids who don’t have those opportunities lose ground academically. Research shows most students fall more than two months behind in math, and low-income children fall behind two to three months in reading.
BELL – Building Educated Leaders for Life – is a non-profit organization with an award-winning summer learning model that’s helping kids around the country not only avoid “summer learning loss,” but make significant academic gains. In Charlotte, we will serve more than 900 scholars in eight sites this summer.
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We believe our total community has a vested interest in ensuring students in under-resourced communities who are struggling academically receive quality summer learning opportunities. Through our experience working with Project L.I.F.T., First Presbyterian Church, A Child’s Place, and schools throughout Charlotte, we have uncovered a few principles that can point the way to a successful summer of learning for more students:
• Share common goals for student success: It has become well known that children who do not engage in structured learning opportunities in the summer tend to lose academic skills. Many students also need support to develop their social and emotional skills, to stay physically fit, and to access the nutrition that is so important to building strong bones and smart brains.
• Set high expectations of students, staff, and parents: When students are engaged and motivated, they can exceed our highest expectations. In addition to high expectations for students and staff, parents must be held accountable for being involved in their child’s education, encouraging reading at home and taking advantage of resources in their community.
• Leverage one another’s strengths: Charlotte has a rich ecosystem of organizations committed to student success. We owe it to our students to thoughtfully align efforts and make the most of our combined capacity. At First Presbyterian, for example, we take advantage of its downtown location to take students on Friday field trips to the NASCAR Museum and swimming at the Dowd YMCA.
• Target high-need students: High-quality summer learning opportunities require time, talent, and funding – each of which is finite. Public and private investment in summer learning often has the greatest impact when it is targeted at the students who stand to benefit the most.
• Do your part: Volunteer, donate books and supplies, and advocate for summer learning in your child’s school. It’s all of our responsibility to ensure that when summer starts, learning doesn’t stop.