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.  

 A two-year-old effort by Kansas City, Missouri, to increase the availability and quality of summer learning programs for young children continues to bear fruit. In 2015, free summer learning programs will be available for nearly 16,000 children in 20 elementary schools and other sites in the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) over twice the 2014 enrollment.

“Based on the results of our 2014 summer expansion, we wanted to have a program in just about every single elementary school, potentially doubling the size of our enrollment last summer. Lots of different entities are figuring out a way to work together to turn summer into a real time of reading improvement,” says Anthony Lewis, KCPS director of elementary schools.

A possible fivefold expansion over three years — with 2,500 students in 2013 and 7,000 in 2014 — reflects Kansas City’s commitment to leveraging summer to increase the percentage of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

“Summer time should not be a time to step away from reading. It should be a time to read even more,” says Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who launched the community’s grade-level reading initiative in 2011.

To further boost quality, up to 50 AmeriCorps Vista members will serve as reading tutors. “We’re providing full-time trained tutors for each building who will work one-on-one with students every day,” says Mike English, executive director of Turn the Page KC, a nonprofit that oversees Kansas City’s GLR campaign.

Among 30 communities honored by the GLR Campaign as a 2014 Pacesetter for early reading work, Kansas City began tackling “summer” in 2013 by commissioning a baseline study to collect and analyze data from several summer programs operating in the city, a few of which made reading a focus.

The study, conducted by the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium and funded by the Kansas City-based Hall Family Foundation, found that rising kindergarten through fourth graders who attended summer programs, on average, gained literacy skills while those who did not attend experienced summer learning loss, says English. “It showed our community that the summer programs are helping to eliminate the summer slide.”

This inspired KCPS to subcontract with five summer program providers already serving low-income neighborhoods, almost tripling enrollment in 2014 from the previous year. The district asked providers to hire certified teachers and to teach reading and math for at least 90 minutes per day in order to spur more academic growth.

Funding for the expansion came from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Ranging from recreation-focused summer camp to academic-oriented summer schools, the programs agreed, after some negotiation, to be called “summer academic enrichment programs” and to share a curriculum.

The programs, lasting from 6–8 weeks, include the Freedom Schools (created by the Children’s Defense Fund), the Upper Room, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, the YMCA and the Local Investment Commission (LINC). Many offer a $100 incentive for students with good attendance.

“We have gained confidence, skill and will, particularly as we have seen positive outcomes and come to appreciate how important this is for children and their families,” says Brent Schondelmeyer, deputy director of LINC, a state-supported nonprofit working in several Kansas City-area school districts.

Additional data collection and research in 2014 bolstered the case for providing summer learning opportunities. Analysis of student assessments done before and after the summer found that students attending a summer academic enrichment program gained an average of two times the literacy skills of those not attending.

This was good news for KCPS, which is on the rebound and has regained provisional accreditation after a period of turmoil that included losing accreditation. “There’s a lot of excitement in our community about the way we have transformed summer,” says English. “Kansas City has changed the summer from a time of learning loss to a time of learning gain.”

For more information, contact Mike English at 816-718-8926 or PHOTOS: LINC; 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 the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois) are fine-tuning their summer learning programming.

How Kent County, Michigan is connecting with the faith-based community to provide a summer learning academy.



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

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  • I wanted to thank Betsy for the excellent article. The story of summer here in Kansas City is really complicated, but worth telling--and she did a really nice job. Recently one of our local news stations ran a story on this summer tutoring program: The tutor featured in this story is a college Junior named Amy Hamdi (Amy is an education major at William Jewell and is one of our 40 "Summer VISTAs"). Amy provides tutoring all day to K-3 students at Garcia Elementary School's summer program. The student in this video (Nayhar) is going into 1st grade, and has made incredible progress in just 3 weeks working with Amy (she's moved up 3 letters on the Fontas & Pinell scale). Nayhar's family is originally from Iraq, and their first language is Arabic. Fortunately our tutor Amy speaks Arabic (her father is from Lybia). This has helped Amy not only to communicate with the student, but with the student's father, who works with this little girl each night. I think that the individual attention and parent communication has combined to contribute to this dramatic growth.
    • How wonderful to have a tutor that can speak Arabic and communicate with the child's father!
    • You are very welcome Mike - glad to do! and congrats on the TV coverage and fine work!
  • This is an inspiring example of how a community is achieving greater scale and impact over time. There are many factors that influenced their success but its worth noting that some of the key strategies for success that NSLA and the Campaign focus on, such as related to book acess and embedding literacy skill development opportunities across programs and settings; and cross-sector coordination around data sharing are definitely part of Kansas City's approach - congrats! Achieving this level of coordination and engagement is a heavy lift and Summer Learning Day activities can help to further energize local efforts, encourage deeper engagement and partnerships; and remind key stakeholders, including families, what can and should be done to address summer learning loss on a path to ensure children are strong readers! I look forward to hearing more about what communities have planned for this summer - including taking advantage of SLD. Please join us for NSLA's webinar this Thursday at 2pm to hear more context ideas and examples!
    • Great points, Lisa, and KUDOS to Kansas City for the incredible work and progress!

      Look forward to seeing many of you on the webinar on Thursday (5/21 at 2pm EST) to hear even more examples of summer learning action in the GLR network. Check the Campaign Strategies in Action blog posted on Monday by Kumba Sennaar for more info and to register. Also, check out the recording of our April Summer Learning Day webinar to learn how to get involved -
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