High-quality summer learning and enrichment opportunities are more important than ever in  2023. The summer months provide a great opportunity to help all kids bounce back, catch up and propel forward into the next school year. In fact, the largest-ever summer learning study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that it was clear that low-income students experienced more setbacks over the summer compared to their wealthier peers. July 10th-14th was Summer Learning Week, a time to reflect on the importance of keeping youth learning, safe, and healthy every summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed in the year ahead. Last week I had the privilege to see some of these amazing programs first hand at Kennedy Heights Community Center.

My days of cartwheels might be past me (did you know I did gymnastics as a kid?), but I delighted in Jay’Onna (6) showing me some impressive moves, M’Layiah (8) sharing excitedly about a fishing field trip later in the afternoon, and I loved learning how Elsa the Community Center Director works closely with Gregory the property manager to meet the needs of a 104 units of housing and hundreds of children. I even got to explain what “Mayoring” is to a curious kid, and left with Sedrick (7) telling me he’d be a future Mayor. Yes, Sedrick, you will be. There was so much possibility, promise, and joy sitting on the stoop of the Kennedy Heights Community Center on a summer afternoon.

Jay’Onna, M’Layiah, Sedrick, and the thousands of other young people in Madison deserve us doing all we can to preserve and expand these sites of joy and learning, and I’m proud to say that we have. In 2022, we worked with our partners as best we could to ensure as many young people had summer learning opportunities as possible. Seeing the impact on families in 2022 compelled us to make a commitment to increase the number of youth enrolled in summer learning programs in 2023. Through coordinating with our partners, providing funding, and supporting the essential workforce that provides these opportunities we’ve made progress.

Right now, compared to last year at this time, we have increased the number of young people enrolled in a summer learning program by around 30% and have nearly tripled the number of low-income elementary students enrolled in affordable or free programs.

Our detailed vantage point of access to summer learning programs is due to one-of-a-kind collaborative investments we’ve made with the Madison Metropolitan School District and the collaboration of dozens of service providers at hundreds of locations. We’re committed to using data to learn from and advance our work. Summer Learning and Out-of-school time is no exception. But that’s just the beginning. We want to dive further into the data in the next five years to really see the impact that out-of-school time has on the children and youth in Madison and understand where we need to grow, what we are doing well, and of course to continue to tell our story effectively and target investments where the data says we need to. This work will be done by expanding the number of partners we have using our MOST Information System, connecting with research partners from UW, and aligning the work we do with Results Madison.

While we’ve made meaningful and impactful progress, that we should feel proud about, we still have a long way to go. Even with our progress fewer than 25% of low-income students in Madison are currently enrolled in a summer learning program.

Summer learning is a critical component of our collective effort to ensure all students graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and life. Summer learning is a public good that benefits our whole community and that all young people (and their working families) deserve. That’s why we’re committing this summer and next to continue increasing the number of options for low-income students by partnering with service providers and funders, continuing to commit funds, and supporting the workforce of youth serving organizations. Our goal is to have at least 25% of all low-income elementary students enrolled in a summer learning program by 2025.

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