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. 

When New York City’s grade-level reading campaign launched the Once Upon a Summer program to reduce young children’s summer learning loss, it zeroed in on the Mott Haven neighborhood in the South Bronx, the nation’s poorest congressional district.

“In Mott Haven, only 1 out of 10 children read at grade level by the end of third grade. It’s alarming. It’s urgent,” says Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City, which leads ReadNYC, a GLR campaign begun in 2013.

Once Upon a Summer is one critical piece of ReadNYC and provides quality opportunities for summer and extended learning, the results of which have been substantial.”

ReadNYC will target 10 of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, working with principals and community leaders to build relationships and an agenda. Each neighborhood will develop a plan addressing five areas — including the particularly acute summer learning loss experienced by disadvantaged students that slows their progress toward reading proficiency.

The summer program — which provided early literacy tutoring to 94 children who completed kindergarten through second grade by summer 2014 — “was the first action around our collective impact work,” says Marielys Divanne, ReadNYC senior director. “We listened and responded to the community desire for a collaborative effort.”

Mott Haven partners include the United Way, which funded the pilot program; five public schools; Read Alliance, a New York early literacy group; and East Side House Settlement, a community-based organization.Results from an evaluation, based on pre- and post-program tests of the 85 students who completed the program found that:

  • 98 percent (83 students) improved their reading score on a test gauging fluency not comprehension.
  • Of those 83 students, 51 percent improved by one academic year or more.
  • 34 percent of the 85 students completing the program read at or above grade level when the program ended. All read below grade level at the program's start.
  • The 67 students who attended 30 or more of the 40 literacy tutoring sessions increased their reading level, on average, by 9 months. Comparable figures for the 18 students attending fewer than 30 sessions was 7 months and for the 9 students who didn’t complete the program, 2 months.
  • Both the 26 English Language Learners (ELLs) and 59 non-ELLs improved their score, on average, by an academic year

To start the program, school principals identified students most in need of summer literacy intervention and six teachers to serve as paid staff overseeing one-on-one tutoring provided by 53 teenagers — 33 from Mott Haven — employed and trained by Read Alliance. “It creates this whole circle of community, with older students relating to the younger students,” says Divanne.

Of 22 tutors who completed a survey, 68 percent said that after being a tutor, they were more likely to want to go to college; 77 percent said tutoring was their first paid job; 55 percent said they saved their tutoring paycheck; 36 percent said they used the money to pay for school; and 23 percent said they contributed their earnings to their family’s income.

East Side House provided staff to oversee the program’s afternoon camp-like component as well as workshops for families offering hands-on strategies to build literacy at home and support to 31 families with children transitioning from East Side House’s child care program to kindergarten in the five targeted schools.

Lessons learned along the way include the importance of building relationships with parents — especially those with young children. “Many parents were hesitant to have them be part of a full-day program but by the end of the summer, they were very pleased,” says Divanne.

Getting an earlier start in planning and recruiting students for next summer’s program also was a key lesson. Last summer, recruiting couldn’t begin until May, when some families had plans.

Overall, the program “was extremely well-received,” says Divanne. “We seek to both reach more children in subsequent years and test other collaborative efforts with more community partners." 

For more information, contact Marielys Divanne at 212-251-2494 or Photos: ReadNYC; Production 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! 

Want more? Check out:

How Bridgeport Connecticut is helping children prepare during the summer for kindergarten.

How Delray Beach Florida obtained data to inform its summer learning work.


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


  • Thanks so much Betsy and everyone for their comments. In response to Ms. McAlister: Summer camp is a valuable resource in supporting children’s development of soft skills necessary for success in school, the workplace, and the community. During the afternoons enrichment activities, campers participated in activities and exercises that supported their independence, team work and critical thinking skills. For example, regular group meetings were held to review schedules and activities as well as discuss as a team, group conflicts. Campers also engaged in games and activities as a group, that emphasized teamwork. Board and team building games were used to practice cooperation, taking turns, following rules, controlling emotions.

    In regards to the effect 1 on 1 tutoring and group recreation had on children, we found that the children came back from tutoring wanting to read to their friends and group leaders. They were much more confident in reading and sharing their mastery of a set of books. Parents also noted that children were more eager to share their experience at home and more confident reading with their parents .
    • Thanks Marielys!
  • I'd be interested to hear more about the program's "camp-like" component in the afternoon- were group activities used to build children's soft skills? Did you find that a balance of specific one-on-one tutoring and group activities helped to give children more confidence in the classroom? The data on reading skills gained was incredible!
    • Marielys Divanne in NYC is the one with the answers - will await word from her!
  • I'm really intrigued to hear about the data on older student tutors! It's great that this was such a community effort.
  • This reminds me of Palm Beach's summer reading program, Happily Ever After. Palm Beach created an exciting summer reading program that included pictures of children in the community attired as fairy tale characters. Here's more about their program:

    NYC's program sounds like a solid basis for growth in the future. I can't wait to hear about the results of summer 2015.
  • I love the idea of using teenage tutors to teach literacy to younger learners - both group improve their skills and their future/financial situation. What's the path for sustaining and expanding the pilot program?
This reply was deleted.