It is essential that young people have places to go during the summer to learn, play and experience new things. I had the privilege of visiting a few amazing programs recently to celebrate National Summer Learning Week.

Mayor Rhodes-Conway reads to kids at Bayview FoundationOur first stop was at Bayview Foundation. Bayview Foundation, in addition to providing affordable housing to 277 residents, has a full-service community center at its heart. It's a place where residents can visit the food pantry, families can get connected to community resources, seniors can gather for social programs, and kids can engage in a wealth of programming or just hang out with their friends. For the past nine years, Bayview Foundation has been operating a summer school in their community center. At Summer Study, teachers from Franklin and Randall elementary schools teach (primarily math and reading) at Bayview in the morning, and in the afternoon the kids enjoy the arts, outdoor recreation, field trips and other fun you would expect from a summer camp. What makes it so effective at preventing summer learning loss is that it takes place steps from students' homes. Tina, a 7-year Summer Study teacher shared how eye-opening it was to get to know students in their home community. “I see a different side of them than when they are at school,” she shared with me, “they are more comfortable here.” At Summer Study, kids literally get to walk across the lawn to summer school and wave at their grandparents during math. And this summer, the program even expanded to accept some of the students who had been unenrolled when MMSD had to reduce its numbers. Now even more Madison kids get to benefit from this summer learning program.Mayor Rhodes-Conway meets Wilma the Buffalo with kids and staff at Henry Vilas Zoo

Our next stop was at Henry Vilas Zoo. Did you know the Henry Vilas Zoo operates a summer camp and an afterschool program? We were lucky enough to visit and hang out with an eager and excited group of 4 and 5 year olds, and, of course, Wilma the Bison. The young campers were learning about and feeding Wilma. I patiently waited my turn to feed Wilma, while each kid cautiously went up, poked a slice of sweet potato close to Wilma’s mouth, then excitedly ran back to their spot, and then I got to do it too! I imagined a zoo would be a magical place to learn, full of possibilities to imagine, create and experience the world, but our Zoo took this a step further when schools closed during the pandemic. They saw a need and met it by opening a learning classroom in the middle of the pandemic to support students in-person while schools were closed. This transition, they said, was not easy (after all, there are alligators at the zoo), but so essential and a great example of people seeing a need and stepping up to fill it, they also offer scholarships for their Zoo Afterschool Program “ZAP” and summer camp, you can find more info at Henry Vilas Zoo's website.

Mayor Rhodes-Conway sees the Henry Vilas ShoeAs we were leaving we ran into one more unexpected surprise: The Henry Vilas Shoe. Many of you know of the shoe and its whimsical paintings, but did you know that for the past 40+ years a Madison School and Community Recreation Art Cart Program paints it in collaboration with MMOCA? I didn’t. In addition to the thousands of students that MSCR serves in dozens of typical full day summer camps each summer, they operate the Art Cart, which brings arts programming all across our city all summer long. It just so happened that we stumbled upon the shoe during their annual tradition of painting it.

It’s more important than ever that we ensure high-quality summer learning and enrichment opportunities are available to all kids in 2022 and beyond. That’s why I’m so proud Madison invests millions of dollars into neighborhood centers, youth employment, out of school time programs, child care and many of the other things that help young people and families thrive, but we know we can’t do it alone. The Madison Out of School Time (MOST) partnership focuses on coordinating and leveraging the resources and assets of our public institutions and non-profit partners to ensure all young people have access to quality programs like the ones I visited this week. MOST has been instrumental in supporting families to access quality programs that support kids learning and engaging. When schools went virtual during the pandemic, MOST helped ensure that 5,000 kids had the in-person support they needed to thrive via our non-profit partners. When 600 kids were un-enrolled from summer school, MOST helped pool our resources and relationships and support places like Bayview and the Zoo in expanding access at the last minute so kids and families have the support they need.

I’m grateful for the work of MOST, and of all the programs that are serving young people this summer. After these visits, one thing is clear, these were not just sites of important learning, they were sites of joy - and that is so important for our kids. Summer is a time of learning and joy-filled engagement! Even in the midst of an ongoing health pandemic, summer is bursting with possibilities for all students to grow, learn and thrive.

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