The research is clear: students who do not read during the summer can lose up to three months of learning progress upon entering school. It is usually the students who can least afford to lose all the gains they achieved during the school year who fall the farthest behind when they return to the classroom. The Summer Literacy program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor puts books in the hands of kids to stem that summer learning loss. For Club youth members, summer is not a vacation from school; it is surprisingly a time when they improve their grade reading proficiency, develop analytical thinking skills, and learn reading and writing strategies.
Working together with the Club’s long-term partner Winning Inc. of America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit led by former Lake Michigan Catholic School principal, Phil Brooks, the Summer Literacy program lets members six to 14-years-old work in small groups with a reading coach. The coaches are key factors to member success, providing their expertise as certified literacy educators to develop individual learning plans.
Club alumni, who are attending college and once participated in the program as young Club members, assist the coaches. The coaches assess each member’s level of reading proficiency, understand their interests and goals, and work at least two sessions every week with members. Sessions are then tailored toward proficiency: challenged and emerging readers learn the basics of learning to read toward achieving third-grade performance; on-grade readers improve their proficiency by reinforcing the basics and learning strategies to understand what they are reading; more advanced members read to learn and demonstrate that knowledge gain by writing, debating, and making presentations.
Achieving third-grade reading performance is an important indicator of future academic success. Over the 13 years of partnering with Winning Inc., 65 percent to 70 percent of Boys & Girls Clubs members achieve third-grade proficiency, compared to 50 percent statewide as reported on standardized testing in January 2014.
The Club’s Summer Literacy program has typically demonstrated an average reading proficiency increase of a half-grade level. This summer, 526 members participated in the program. Members are reporting they feel confident starting a new school year having enjoyed reading, learned new test-taking strategies, and improved writing skills. The 10-week literacy program prepares our members for successful, life-long learning with a fun program that reduces summer learning loss and increases grade-level reading proficiency.
United Way of Southwest Michigan, St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club, Dollar General Literacy Foundation, Frederick S. Upton Foundation, American Electric Power, and the Benton Harbor Fairplain Lions Club are supporters who help to make these types of academic opportunities possible for our members at the Fettig Youth Campus.