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 Dayton, Ohio, two programs offered to prevent “summer slide” — the loss of learning that occurs when children are out of school for several months — have produced encouraging results.

Both full-day programs were part of a summer 2014 effort to expand existing community efforts to address summer learning loss. They were provided free-of-charge to K-8 students in high-poverty schools who are particularly at risk of summer slide because many do not read on their own or are not involved in summer enrichment activities.

“If we aren’t engaging and teaching our children over the summer, we’re losing precious time,” says Becky Coughlin, executive director of the Iddings Foundation in Dayton, which was a financial supporter. “Summer is our chance to give extra attention to children, especially those who are behind.”

Almost 500 students in two Dayton-area school districts attended the five-week Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) program — based in Boston and operating in 18 cities, including Dayton for the first time — in 2014. And 350 students attended the six-week Freedom Schools, created by Children’s Defense Fund and operating in more than 100 cities, which grew from four to six Dayton-area sites in 2014.

Pre- and post-tests of students found that: 

  • BELL students had an average grade-equivalent reading gain of 3.3 months. The average grade-equivalent math gain in months was 1.8. The improvements were even greater for students who tested in the lowest quartile at the start of the summer. 
  • Freedom Schools students in all age groups at all sites made statistically significant gains in six literacy-related areas assessed such as passage reading fluency and multiple choice reading comprehension.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) helped the Dayton Region broaden its summer learning offerings, says Ritika Kurup of Learn to Earn Dayton/ReadySetSoar, a Dayton-area cradle-to-career partnership that is the lead organization for Dayton’s GLR campaign.

Part of a community-wide effort, the new summer opportunities added to longstanding efforts by multiple nonprofit organizations including the local YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club. “No one model is best for all of our kids,” says Kurup.

United Way of the Greater Dayton Area and Omega Baptist Church in Dayton inspired Grace United Method Church in Dayton — a Freedom Schools site — to get involved, according to Sherry Gale, the church’s pastor. “It is very inspiring to see young people increase not only their reading skills but also their love of reading and their sense of self and connection to the world around them,” Gale said in a newspaper interview.

Some of the excitement in Dayton around the power of summer learning stemmed from a November 2013 NSLA conference, attended by 10 people from the region including librarians and school curriculum directors.

After the conference, a presentation was made to local school districts, which then chose their summer program and worked with United Way and Learn to Earn Dayton/ReadySetSoar in implementing the models. United Way coordinated all of the Freedom Schools sites, providing centralized fundraising, hiring, training and administrative supports.

Vectren, a local energy delivery company; Montgomery County, which includes Dayton; United Way; the City of Dayton; Montgomery County Educational Service Center; the Iddings Foundation; school districts; and several other local funders and donors joined together to support the two programs.

Another GLR Campaign resource important in building support was a “summer slide” video, narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams. Kurup showed the video repeatedly, she says, “always to the same reaction — ‘Wow, we had no idea about the impact of summer learning loss!’”

One lesson learned was to start summer planning as early as possible. “Our partners worked incredibly hard to get these programs up and running quickly,” says Kurup. “If we could do it all over, we would have started sooner, and this year we are.” 

For more information, contact Ritika Kurup at 937-236-9965 or ritika.kurup@readysetsoar.orgPhotos: Larry C. Price for ReadySetSoar; Publication Date: Fall 2014. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

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

Want more? Check out:

  • Bridgeport, Connecticut offers Kick Off to Kindergarten, a free summer program designed to introduce literacy, numbers, group play and more to pre-K students in an effort to ensure all children are kindergarten-ready and able to read proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • Fresno, California  libraries serve a cold lunch every weekday from mid-June to early August and plan to broaden enrichment activities to include the sciences.


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

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  • In Northern Kentucky, we are discovering how critical early planning is for developing quality summer learning programs. We have 18 public school districts in our region, all in various sizes, and the programs look different in each district. Many districts use 21st Century Learning grants to fund their summer learning programs, however those districts who don't have federal funds must work collaboratively with community partners to offer programs for students. The earlier in the school year that districts can begin planning for the next summer, the better. We also have pulled together a Summer Learning Resource Guide for our region the past two years, so that districts can see what other schools are offering in the summer. We are working on a more formal showcase of our summer learning programs in February... and we hope to continue the conversation on bringing quality programs to scale in the region.
    • Thanks for sharing Nancy - sounds like a future Bright Spot!
  • I am the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Learning Coordinator for the Dubuque Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. I've done a lot of research for our committee on curriculum and existing summer programs, but I haven't come across Freedom Schools in my search. Can you tell me more about it - 100 cities implementing is impressive!?

    Here are a few - quite a lot, actually - questions about each of the programs and your experience...anyone else on the Huddle please feel free to answer based on your experiences with these or other programs.

    For your first year of implementation, when did you begin planning? How often did you meet?
    Who were the players at the table during decision making? Was it top (administrative) heavy or were there programmers, implementers, and teachers present in discussions and planning?
    You say begin planning as soon as possible, what would your ideal timeline be for implementation?
    Where did programs take place...schools, churches, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club? Was transportation provided to/from programs?

    What were the costs associated with implementing two already established programs, compared to creating your own summer program?
    What was provided by the program organization, and what did you have to provide for implementation of their curriculum and program?
    Did they provide adequate training and support for successful implementation?
    How did they evaluate the implementation of their program in your city?
    Were the program(s) flexible to meet the needs/strengths of your community and kids or did you have to adhere to strict implementation protocols? Will you be able to change programs, as you see fit, to accommodate your students' needs in future years?

    You had impressive results for both programs, what assessments were used for the pre- and post- tests?
    Were they local assessments (provided by schools) or were they provided by the program organization?
    Did schools find the same results when kids went back to school and tested with their standards?

    It's great to see church getting involved - it's one provider we haven't reached, you have suggestions on how to engage faith based organizations in the Campaign?

    Thanks for sharing your insights for those who are following...*Don't feel obligated to answer ALL the questions, but these are just some thoughts as we enter the new year and prepare to start delving into summer program planning!
    • Stacy, those are all great questions. Freedom Schools is a model developed by CDF. You can get more information at We in Dayton area are fortunate to have our United Way coordinating all the Freedom Schools in the area. This was their first year and it went very well. The UW along with community leaders and providers led the decision making on where the FS would be.

      We are also fortunate to have a couple of key faith-based leaders who are strong supporters of this work and have rallied others. We do have a long way to go still though in engaging majority of our faith community in a systemic manner.

      For BELL we worked with the district superintendents and Directors of Curriculum to make the decision on which model worked for their students. In fact the curriculum folks were very closely involved in researching the models upfront! For BELL the districts targeted highest need students to attend the programming and provided transportation. BELL used STAR assessment and both the partner districts use the same assessment through the school year so it worked out well.

      Freedom Schools used Easy CBM as their assessment this year.

      We began discussion on which models to adopt in January last year but the actual planning didn't start till early spring and that was really tight! I agree with NSLA, summer planning should start in September to keep a reasonable pace. We were able to successfully pull it off last year but it was very stressful. Hope this helps.

      Please feel free to call me if you have any additional questions. Good luck with your summer plans!
  • The NBC video is fantastic! Have you also used the Statisticks Lottery video to build awareness and support? We will be using the info at 1:20 - 1:35 for our 2nd Book Drive to honor MLK Jr. and Dr. Seuss from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20. We've used the quote, "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free!" by Frederick Douglass to tie these two messages of empowerment and reading together. We will distribute books to families without quality books in their home for 'Read Across America' Day. Our Summer Program also sent home free books (purchased through First Book at impressive savings!!!) with activities to do with their families, based on the Reading Rockets Adventure Packs. Did either summer program address the books at home problem that some kids experience?
    • I really like that Frederick Douglass quote, Stacy. And as a former First Book employee, I'm so glad that you got books from them. The prices can be quite impressive.

      And in case anyone wants a link to the Statisticks video, it's the first one at the top of this page:
      You can download it here: (Look for the Download button underneath the video.)
  • Thought-provoking questions and observations Melissa. Makes me wonder if education should look to industry quality improvement systems (Sixth Sigma) and the like for how to embed the type of feedback and continuous improvement loop into the delivery system.

    Rikita, I assume Every Child Capital is in the mix here? Seems like a perfect "deal" for them.
    • Melissa your work in partnership with Cincinnati Children's sounds great. We hope to learn from you as you begin implementation!

      Lauren, unfortunately we do not have Every Child Capital here in Dayton.
    • Absolutely. We are partnering with Cincinnati Children's Hospital - an international leader in improvement science - to take what they have created in healthcare and adapt it to cradle to career collaboration. The first continuous improvement learning network will aim to improve early literacy and will likely include pediatricians, teachers, and service providers. The shift in operating will be away from action plans to testing, and from pilots to small tests of change - continually reflecting on what works/what didn't, and adapting for the next test. We have to re-program our system.
  • Melissa, I agree resources are a challenge! We have found that an effective summer program costs approximately just as much per week as the weekly cost of educating a student during the school year. Our hope is that over time we can capture the impact summer programming is having on the fall scores when students return to the classrooms. We are already seeing great results int he first year!
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