When you are working in schools, summers can be a difficult time to continue the progress you’ve made with the kids through out the year. You have limited access to the kids you’re trying to reach while they’re off with their family and friends, and you have limited resources as school buildings close or work with limited staff over the summer break. I’m Chelsea Clark, and this is my second and final summer serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Davenport University and my community partner the Challenge Scholars Family of Schools in the Grand Rapids Public School district. My goal this summer was to finish up my service with programming that would continue to prepare the students in the Challenge Scholars program for their future.
With this goal in mind, I began to read about how summer vacation affects my students. One thing I learned is that a student loses on average 2.6 months of math skills over break. Another thing is that while middle-income students usually see their reading skills grow over the summer break, lower-income students may lose 2 months or more of reading comprehension over the break. Finally, national benchmarks suggest that 40 percent of kids who regularly eat free or reduced price school meals also need access to summer meals if their nutritional needs are to be adequately met. With this knowledge in hand, Gwen Heatley, College and Career Coordinator at Harrison Park K-8 School, and I planned a summer curriculum that would keep our students engaged academically over the break.
We partnered with the Michigan Department of Education’s Meet up to Eat Up Program to bring in students. The Meet Up to Eat Up program provides free, nutritious breakfast and lunch four days a week to all youth under 18 years old. The meals brought in the students and we took advantage of that to keep students occupied with fun, academically challenging activities. After breakfast students were able to choose books that had been donated from the community to read during what we called a ‘Reading Oasis’. At the end students were able to bring the books home that they finished to share with their friends. After lunch, our curriculum focused on STEM subjects. Students played chess, gardened in the salsa garden provided by the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, used chemistry to make slime, and used their engineering skills to win an egg drop competition. Four days a week students received two nutritious hot meals, two hours of academic engagement, books to share with their neighborhood friends, and fun times with new friends.
For educators and those who work in schools at all levels, it is important that summer is a time to catch your breath, relax, recharge, and prepare for the next year. However, it is also a vital time for our students to keep moving forward. Programs like Meet Up to Eat Up, provide an opportunity for us to reach students we might not otherwise have access to during the summer.
These two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA have been truly great, and I sincerely believe that work we have done as a cohort this past year has made a lasting difference in the lives of Michigan families. Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!