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 Arkansas, National Summer Learning Day has become a weeklong affair, with events held in several communities to emphasize the need for more and better summer learning opportunities for children and youth. In 2015, the official day is June 19. 

“We were really inspired by the Grade-Level Reading Campaign to do more to raise public awareness about the importance of summer learning,” says Laveta Wills-Hale, coordinator of the Arkansas Out of School Network (AOSN), which works to expand access to quality after-school and summer learning programs statewide. 

“We have a long way to go to ensure that every child who needs and wants to participate in a quality summer learning program has access to one in their community,” she adds. Only 17 percent, or 82,701, of Arkansas’s school-age children and youth participate in a summer learning program, according to a 2010 report. “It’s a public policy emergency when it comes to funding.” 

AOSN is among 48 Statewide Afterschool Networks (SAN) supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. SAN and the GLR Campaign illustrate the power of networks connecting to better help struggling students move successfully from kindergarten through third grade. Started in 2005, as a sponsored initiative of Arkansas State University, AOSN has become intentional about addressing summer learning, connecting with both the National Summer Learning Association and the GLR Campaign. 

“We’re very good partners,” says Angela Duran, campaign director of the Arkansas GLR Campaign, which is supported by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, based in Little Rock. “AOSN has been the lead on the legislative piece, seeking summer and after-school program funding and setting quality standards.” 

At the state policy level, AOSN helped successfully advocate for legislation, signed in 2011, to create state-funded after-school and summer programs based at or linked to schools, building on 2008 recommendations from a governor’s task force. Funding the law remains the unfinished business of the task force and others, including AOSN.

At the community level, AOSN and its partners advocate for using existing revenue for quality summer learning, including nearly $200 million in state education funds through the National School Lunch Act (NSLA). “Only about $5 million supported summer learning, 2012 data show,” says Wills-Hale.

“School districts decide how their NSLA funds are used. We encourage them to offer engaging summer learning experiences that build skills kids need to succeed in school and in 21st century jobs. Many districts provide programs focused solely on remediation.”

AOSN also works to improve program quality by providing professional development to providers on how to prevent summer learning loss. To strengthen public awareness, AOSN shares educational materials with policymakers, educators and parents.

National Summer Learning Day provides another strategic messaging opportunity, says Wills-Hale. In 2014, AOSN sponsored events in two communities during the week leading up to the official day, when the third and largest event was held in Little Rock — the state’s largest media market — attracting 250 children plus parents and policymakers.

A year later, AOSN is planning to add an event in one more community and broaden the message to emphasize how quality summer programs can help produce citizens who are better prepared to enter fields involving science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM).

“We want to highlight not only the importance of summer learning to literacy and reading but also the connection to STEM because we have a huge emphasis on STEM now,” says Wills-Hale. “It is difficult to take advantage of STEM-related content and coding if you are not a strong reader.”

She predicts a “tipping point” for interest in summer learning as communities and schools wrestle with the reality of implementing new education standards and how to support students. “Parents are going to be looking for more support for their children, particularly around language arts, science and mathematics,” she says. “Some of that must come from summer learning as well as after-school programs."  

For more information, contact Laveta Wills-Hale at 501-280-0577 or lwillshale@astate.edu.. Photos: AOSN; Publication Date: Winter 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net 

Is  your community marking National Summer Learning Day and/or expanding summer learning options? 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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Comments

  • It is great that you have been able to connect partners and extend the marketing value of Summer Learning Day into a strong community message. I am interested in hearing what you think will happen next in your community and schools as you reach your tipping point. I am also interested in the specifics of what you think made this SLD model work. Eager to hear more...
  • Way to go Laveta!! In my past life as a school superintendent I saw first hand the positive impact of summer learning programs on our students. Children either gained in reading ability or maintained their skills. We are working to bring programs back that were lost to budget cuts in NY. I love that you have integrated STEM into the programs. Keep up the great work.
  • Amazing work, Laveta! You've inspired me to look ahead to what our community can do for National Summer Learning Day. I'm going to register for the upcoming webinar on April 3rd. Can you share more details about the content/programing for your SLD? Looking forward to learning from you!
  • This is a great example of how working at the policy level and the community level can improve students' academic outcomes and prevent summer learning loss. We are grateful to have AOSN in Arkansas.
  • Congrats Arkansas on expanding the day to a weeklong focus! That is a real accomplishment and victory for the children of Arkansas. From the Bright Spot story it looks like you are going to make a real effort to focus on STEM this summer. Have you figured out what activities will be included? I'd love to hear more about your plans as they develop and to see how others in the Network can help/learn from your efforts. Keep it up! Can Summer Learning Summers be too far off???
  • Thank you for sharing, Laveta! Keep up the great work. I love that you leveraged your local media market by holding a major Summer Learning Day event in Little Rock in an effort to generate awareness of summer learning. What are your plans for 2015? Don't forget to register for our Summer Learning Day webinar on April 3. Here's a link: http://bit.ly/1CCjsax.
    • Oh, thanks for posting that, Nancy! You beat me to it and I thank you.
  • Kudos to Laveta and the whole AOSN team and broader Arkansas GLR coalition for your great work! It's exciting to see how National Summer Learning Day is helping to advance your GLR summer learning strategies including building awareness through community-wide messaging and building capacity of providers to tackle summer learning loss by integrating literacy activities into programs. Can't wait to see how the work develops and what you have planned for SLD this year!
  • Thanks to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for sharing this terrific bright spot on the Arkansas Out of School Network (AOSN). We're fortunate in Arkansas to have fantastic advocates at the table that are committed to increasing access to high-quality out-of-school programming. AOSN continues to be a leader in providing technical assistance to our communities, increasing awareness on the importance of high-quality summer and out-of-school learning, and building the policy case for public support.
  • This is all wonderful! What do you have up your sleeve for SLD 2015?
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