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United Way Summer Reading Program Helps Students Succeed

Des Moines Education United Way Central Iowa

June 2, 2017

As schools dismiss for the summer, kids look forward to the long summer break. For some, that means carefree days at the pool, a fun and enriching camp experience, a family vacation and a long list of summer reading to enjoy. After three months fly by, they will head back to school, ready to calculate the area of a circle and read more challenging books than they read in the spring.

Unfortunately, that idyllic summer does not exist for all. For children from lower-income families, summer means less structure, no school lunches and not enough to do. They return to school in the fall having regressed academically by up to two months from when they left in the spring.

That learning loss has been termed the “summer slide,” and some kids never recover. By sixth grade, they can fall behind academically by as much as one full year.

The summer slide is more pronounced in lower-income families, whose parents cannot afford quality summer opportunities that promote learning and enrichment.

United Way of Central Iowa works to curb this learning loss for students in Greater Des Moines (DSM) through its summer learning initiative called Summer in the City.

Summer in the City Locations and Programs

  • Starfish Academy programs at King and Monroe elementary schools — serving some of DSM’s lowest-income neighborhoods. For six weeks, United Way and nonprofit partners will engage children in STEM academics as well as art, music, gardening and physical activity.
  • A similar program sponsored by the YMCA called Y Scholars at Findley Elementary
  • Programs for K-5 students at two DSM churches and one city park in lower-income neighborhoods
  • Summer enrichment programs at elementary schools in Urbandale
  • The Summer Youth Employment program at Oakridge Neighborhood Services and the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, giving teens their first real-world work experiences, plus an opportunity to explore college and future career interests.

Thanks to Summer in the City, students in the sites like the Starfish Academy not only maintained their learning in previous years, they saw up to three months improvement.

Summer in the City reversed the summer slide for some children, but there is still much to do in our community, especially in regards to early childhood reading.

One in four DSM children cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade.

This one fact is the top predictor of student success. Kids who read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school than those who cannot. Because at the end of third grade, students are no longer learning to read. But they must be able to read to learn. If they struggle with reading, they can fall farther and farther behind their peers and their path to graduation becomes increasingly more difficult.

That’s why United Way of Central Iowa launched READ to SUCCEED, a ground-breaking, community-wide awareness and action campaign to help our kids get the skills they need to succeed as students and beyond.  

We invite you to volunteer to help kids become proficient readers. Visit our READ to SUCCEED website for volunteer opportunities and a toolkit of action YOU can take to help children during the summer months and throughout the year.

The goal of Education Drives Our Greater Economy (EDGE) is to increase the percentage of DSM adults who have high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 75 percent by 2025, aligning educational outcomes to actual talent pool needs in the region. EDGE is designed to cultivate cradle-through-career education and training by bringing together existing talent development efforts already taking place in the region. The initiative is designed generate collaboration and cohesion with both business and education leaders to further drive progress. EDGE was developed from the Capital Crossroads Regional Vision Plan and is powered by the Greater Des Moines Partnership. EDGE was developed from the Capital Crossroads Regional Vision Plan and is powered by The Partnership.

For additional information on education, student opportunities and ways to volunteer through DSM.

Kate Bennett

Kate Bennett is a community impact author for education with United Way of Central Iowa.