Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

In the northern Illinois city of Waukegan, grade-level reading campaign partners developed a full-day summer learning program — available to hundreds of young children — by combining two already available part-day offerings.

“Everyone was really drawn to the summer learning issue and felt it was a critical need,” says Michelle Mittler Crombie, vice president of community impact for the United Way of Lake County, which oversees the GLR campaign in Waukegan, one of 30 communities nationwide honored as a 2014 Pacesetter for their early reading work.

“We had several different programs but they were underutilized and could be so much better. They weren’t helpful to the kids who most need help. What we ended up doing is combining.”

The result was the 2014 launch of a full-day program option linking two programs — the school district’s academic enrichment morning program and the park district’s recreational afternoon program. Other partners include the public library, offering its summer reading program, and the Kohl Children’s Museum, in neighboring Cook County, hosting field trips.

“The community was at a point where they wanted to work together,” says Crombie. “Everyone chipped in and worked hard.”

Following a six-month planning process, the full-day program served about 500 children entering grades kindergarten through fifth grade. The program costs $350 but about 100 children attended free, with scholarships funded by the United Way Women’s Leadership Council and several local foundations.

The program is voluntary, adds Crombie, “but we strongly encourage the children who are likely to regress over the summer to participate.”

In summer 2015, a new school readiness piece will provide a Kindergarten Countdown Camp targeted to 30 children with no preschool experience. They will attend free-of-charge, again thanks to United Way support. The curriculum will differ from 2014, when all the kindergartners attending came from the school district’s preschool.

"There will be more focus on developing social/emotional growth, cognitive skills, communication and language,” says Crombie. And there will be outreach to let families know about the camp.

Children from the full-day program, on average, did not lose academic ability over the summer, based on a comparison of spring and fall school test scores. Elementary school students districtwide, on average, had a seven-point loss based on a 2013 test score analysis.

By offering the full-day program, GLR partners in Waukegan addressed several issues that had limited children’s participation in the half-day programs — especially children from low-income families and children with parents in the workforce.

The half-day programs were located in different places and had overlapping schedules. Each required separate sign-up and payment. Transportation was unavailable to most activities so children had to be picked up midday. The school district’s morning program had to charge a fee after a grant that once made it free-of-charge was no longer available.

The full-day program is in one location, with free transportation as well as breakfast and lunch provided by the school district. The new scholarships will cover about 20 percent of the children attending.

In 2015, the program will make another change to better attract and accommodate families, switching to a three-week program offered five days a week — with slightly longer days than in 2014. The previous design — a four-week program offered Monday through Thursday — proved challenging for families who needed something for their children on Fridays.

The program also will switch from being located in an elementary school with no air-conditioning to an air-conditioned middle school that is “specially fitted out with the right kind of chairs for little kids,” says Crombie. “Even the custodians are in the act, helping us out.”

The switch was necessary because the program will be held in July, rather than June, due to a month-long teacher’s strike that delayed the school year. “We really need an air-conditioned building,” says Crombie. “There have been a lot of bumps in the road and we’ve managed to deal with them all.”

For more information, contact Michelle Mittler Crombie at 847-775-1016 or Michelle.Crombie@uwlakeco.orgPhotos: United Way of Lake County; Publication Date: Spring 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

Does your community have a summer learning program? If so, share your experience in the comments box!

Want more? Check out:  

How Bellevue, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri have expanded summer learning options.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

You need to be a member of The Huddle to add comments!

Join The Huddle


  • Fantastic bright spot! Kudos to our Grade-Level Reading colleagues in Waukegan. This school-community partnership is certainly powerful.

    Michelle- did the local grade-level campaign and/or the United Way have a role in encouraging the partnership? If so, were the student scholarships or other resources helpful as a brokering tool?
    • Hi Andrew,
      I think the real driver in this project was overcoming the barriers to participation. The Park District, School District and the Library all had good programs that were underutilized. The Campaign for Grade Level Reading was the catalyst to get people thinking outside of their organization's walls to come up with a solution that collectively worked for all. United Way is the backbone organization so we were very involved in bringing the group together, but the magic happened because it benefitted everyone to work together. The scholarships were an important part of overcoming barriers to participation, but it wasn't the brokering tool at all. It took us a while to "find" the money and the plan was well developed by the time we could offer anything substantial.
      Hope that is somewhat helpful!
      • Extremely helpful! I'm thrilled to hear that folks were absolutely committed to moving the GLR agenda in your community and working together. Kudos!
  • Hello and thank you all for your kind comments! This was truly a collaborative effort with many organizations and individuals dedicating much time to making it run smoothly. To answer Susanne's question, any child can participate in the camp, but those particularly far behind are given extra encouragement from the school. Scholarship children (those who are most likely to regress but cannot afford the fee) are identified and prioritized school social workers and reading specialists. Each school has a certain number of scholarships that they can award.

    Feel free to contact me directly with any questions!!
    • Sounds like a wise way to target participation for children who need it most!
  • This reply was deleted.
    • Hi Carolyn! I agree - lets talk! My contact information is at the end of the article.
  • Big kudos for overcoming some common challenges. How do you identify the children that are likely to regress over the summer to encourage them to participate?
  • Congrats on a great program and the wonderful collaboration! I look forward to hearing about the kindergartwn round up success!
  • This is great news not just for the kids who will benefit but also for the parents who work and might not have had the kids in the programs because they were half day. Working together is such a good thing. Think maybe we can get more people to do it????
  • What a wonderful partnership to benefit children and families! A lot of planning and hard work is paying off. Congrats to the community of Waukegan for their outstanding work.
This reply was deleted.