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.

For children living in isolated mobile home parks, summer can mean lots of free time with little to do. But a popular summer outreach program in California’s Tahoe Truckee area that sponsors teachers’ visits to the parks is providing welcome literacy activities and reading time.

“These kids really don’t leave those mobile home parks in the summertime. So having teachers come in, bring activities and lead them through different projects was a highlight of their summer,” says Laura Abbey Brown, executive director of Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education Foundation, which leads the grade-level reading campaign, Tahoe Truckee Reads.

During its third summer, the Neighborhood Summer Reading Program served nearly 100 children in 2014, most in grades one through three, at three mobile home parks and three low-income housing complexes. Most sites operated for five to six weeks, two mornings per week, in whatever space was available — from a community room to a parking lot.

“We decided to go to the communities that need this most and bring the program to them, which is unique,” says Brown. Because the program is not in a classroom and does not have a formal curriculum or enrollment, it is “looser, more grassroots, organic — and the kids love it,” says Brown, adding that most children showed up repeatedly.

“Teachers were visiting kids of different ages and languages. They did the programming, engaging kids in a way they wouldn’t be otherwise. Where some parks are located, there’s not much nearby and the children just end up inside watching television.”

At some sites, children were split into two age groups. Common activities included weekly reading groups, story time, literacy-skill building, nature walks, field trips, special guest visits and hands-on projects. Teen volunteers sometimes assisted the local teachers.

Tahoe Truckee also has been beefing up more traditional summer programming since 2013, thanks to its school district and Superintendent/Chief Learning Officer Rob Leri, who joined Brown in attending a 2012 GLR Campaign gathering in Denver.

“It was incredibly powerful to see so many people collaborating and working together,” says Brown. “The superintendent embraced the Campaign and has led the charge on many initiatives, including summer programming, which we hadn’t had for several years.”

In 2013, the school district proposed, funded and implemented a four-week school readiness “K Camp” to prepare children entering kindergarten in the fall and a four-week Summer Scholars program for specific rising first graders and second graders in need of focused academic attention.

In 2014, the number of children served grew to 269, from 211 the previous year. The half-day Summer Scholars was expanded to include rising third graders, serving 129 children. Open to all kindergartners, K Camp served 140 children (41 percent of incoming kindergartners) and added more parent engagement components.

“We are proud to offer summer programs that reach students with the greatest need,” says Leri. “Summer Scholars provides targeted instruction and intervention, and offers students a continuum of learning over the summer months.”

Results of pre- and post-tests for students in both programs found growth in all tested areas. The average increases ranged from 12 to 58 percent for K Camp students in school readiness and early literacy-related skills, and from 10 to 50 percent for Summer Scholars in literacy skills.

The goal is to grow Summer Scholars to include rising fourth and fifth graders. As more traditional programming expands, the long-term future is uncertain for the neighborhood program, which is funded with grants from community organizations. In summer 2014, one site closed early because many children were attending a school district program.

But the neighborhood program will likely be offered next summer, as attendance remains strong. “The Summer Scholars program is for the lowest performing 10 percent of students and we want to make sure there’s an offering for other kids,” says Brown.

For more information, contact Laura Abbey Brown at 530-550-7984 or Photos: Tahoe Truckee reads; Publication Date: Fall 2014

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!

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

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  • . . Just came came across this. What a great program! Did the program continue this summer?
  • The decision to offer the Neighborhood Summer Reading Program at mobile home sites in Tahoe Truckee is a great example of "meeting people where they are." Here in my position at NSLA, I get to travel and meet with summer learning advocates in cities around the country. Often these individuals cite transportation as a challenge to engaging more youth in the summer time, or note that community members are unlikely to leave their particular neighborhood to access even the best summer program.

    Tahoe Truckee shows that the solution isn't necessarily about finding the right incentives to bring families in - it is also about going out to the places where we know there are families in need and serving them there. As Brown notes, there are kids who need more intensive supports, but there also need to be opportunities for the others. It reminds me, in some ways, of the ongoing efforts in Fresno, CA, Portland, ME and other campaign communities to connect summer reading opportunities and summer food service sites in order to really reach the children who most need support in reaching proficiency by 3rd grade.

    Congratulations to Tahoe Truckee on their great work, and a sincere thank you to Betsy for sharing their work with us!
    • Thanks Nick - Tahoe Truckee is doing a great job! I've written about Fresno's Lunch at the Library work - welcome any information on Portland for a possible Bright Spot!
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