“Summer and extended learning are a life-saving experience. That’s not an exaggeration.”
It was a grand statement, especially coming from New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the leader of the largest school district in the United States. Fariña’s remarks were a fitting opening at the May 19 convening of the New Vision for Summer Schools Network, a national coalition of 30 school districts committed to advancing summer learning. Bringing together community organizations, city and district leaders, policymakers, and funders, the day’s focus was on building systems-level approaches to summer learning to advance both equity and excellence.
During the opening to the event, which was hosted by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) at the Ford Foundation’s headquarters in New York, Chancellor Fariña and others highlighted the benefits of summer learning—among them, stronger reading and vocabulary skills, field trips to new places, mentorship from a caring adult, and the opportunity for “hangout time,” which is of particular value for adolescents.
Throughout the day, participants considered the importance of school-community partnerships, equitable access, and funding. In a panel discussion on the “new vision” for summer learning, Teresa Weatherall Neal, Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, highlighted her whole-community approach to leveraging local organizations and city agencies for input and resources. Julie McCalmont, Coordinator of Summer Learning Programs at Oakland Unified School District, described her district’s integration of summer learning into a full-service community schools model and spoke about the benefits of centralizing funding within the district, which enabled sites to plan for summer in advance.
The panel also offered key takeaways to help programs and cities realize the potential of summer instruction to engage youth. Bill Chong, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, spoke about individualized programming that caters to students’ interests and needs. Dorita Gibson, Senior Deputy Chancellor at the New York City Department of Education, highlighted instruction that is seamless and integrated, describing success at that point as “where you can’t tell the community educator from the teacher.” Finally, McCalmont described summer as a “laboratory” for school, saying, “Summer is doing the work that urban education can’t get done during the year.”
The forum’s afternoon encouraged discussion of best practices and systems development in four workshop sessions. Centered on school-year alignment, strong partnerships, funding, and curriculum and instruction, the breakouts helped focus participants on the work ahead. As pinpointed by Sarah Pitcock, Chief Executive Officer of NSLA, fostering year-long learning is next on the agenda.