In the summer of 2016, the superintendent of Schenectady City School District presented his staff with an interesting idea: What if we could offer a summer learning program for our kids that would ensure access to a safe space, three meals per day, and the opportunity to play, discover new things about themselves, and learn? What would this look like? How can we achieve it?
We immediately started collaborating as teachers, curriculum supervisors, and administrators to determine how we could best support our students over the summer—academically and emotionally.
This was no easy task. Schenectady City School District serves more than 10,000 students across 11 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 1 high school. Our student population is incredibly diverse and is filled with culture and richness. Our students speak more than 30 different languages. We needed a solution that would create a common expectation for literacy instruction, value our instructional priorities, reflect our students and their families, and keep students engaged throughout the day. With these goals in mind, we created our Summer Enrichment Program, which kicked off for students in grades K–5 in the summer of 2017.
The program now runs for 20 days throughout July and August for students in grades pre-K–9. For 10 hours each day, kids participate in a number of lessons and activities covering literacy, math, technology, design, project-based learning, dancing, and even swimming. Everything is facilitated by trained educators and is meant to help students maintain their literacy skills over the summer, increase confidence, bolster social-emotional learning skills, and engage with the community to learn and grow.
The literacy portion of the Summer Enrichment Program harnesses Scholastic LitCamp, a summer literacy program that aims to build students’ social-emotional skills around what the program refers to as “the 7 strengths”—belonging, curiosity, friendship, kindness, confidence, courage, and hope—by incorporating these concepts into reading and writing texts and lessons, and combining them with an engaging summer camp approach.
LitCamp helps our teachers implement innovative literacy experiences that engage and motivate students in a way that is different from traditional literacy instruction during the school year. LitCamp also aligns with the principles of instruction we value as a district, including:
- A collaborative and inclusive classroom structure
- Prioritizing social-emotional development
- Engagement with authentic, relevant, and representative texts
- Socialization and learning opportunities involving the community
- Reading instruction through read-alouds, writing about reading, and opportunities for students to bring the text to life through play
Over the summer of 2018, Scholastic Research & Validation partnered with RMC Research and Schenectady City School District to evaluate the impact of LitCamp during our Summer Enrichment Program. The study showed positive reading behavior and social-emotional outcomes for students. Here are some key highlights:
Students demonstrated increased reading variety and resilience after participating in LitCamp. For example, 86% of grade 3 LitCamp students reported having the courage to read books that might be hard to read, and 94% of grade 5 LitCamp students reported reading different kinds of books. These were statistically significant increases from their attitudes and behaviors reported before participating in LitCamp. This is the type of bravery and determination we want our students to carry with them into the following school year and beyond.
Books are wonderful resources for students to learn about navigating life’s challenges, and families appreciated LitCamp’s emphasis on cultivating students’ personal strengths. One mother in our district shared: “Because if there’s characters inside of a book that come to a dilemma…it would be easier for my 10-year-old to…read it and understand it and then approach me with her questions, instead of us having to just come up with the scenario that probably would most likely not fit into her everyday life.”
With a heightened need for social-emotional learning materials in schools, our teachers expressed appreciation for the social-emotional aspect of the program and incorporation of the 7 strengths in the book selections. About three quarters of teacher survey respondents reported LitCamp developed students’ social-emotional skills around the program’s 7 strengths. Teachers also reported a greater sense of community among students as demonstrated by displays of kindness and empathy. One of our second grade teachers said, “I think every one [of the strengths] we’ve done, they are looking at those strengths and looking to see in their life if that’s something they have. Even if they’re not really internalizing it, they’re identifying it.”
In regards to reading behaviors, teachers rated LitCamp as effective at developing students’ abilities to read independently (84%), choose books (82%), and read aloud (80%). Teachers also reported observing students develop fluency and read books for longer periods of time, and some teachers commented that students were choosing more challenging books. A fourth-grade teacher specifically noted that students were using vocabulary introduced in the LitCamp lessons in discussions: “We’re working on vocabulary and—if we talk about a vocabulary word—a couple of my [students] will use that word throughout or make a connection.”
Above all, LitCamp created a common vision for literacy instruction in our Summer Enrichment Program for our teachers across sites and grade levels, while fostering a welcoming and enjoyable literacy environment for our students. There is always more work to be done to support our students in growing their reading skills and bolstering their social-emotional strengths, but LitCamp is a really exciting start.
To learn more about the research on LitCamp in Schenectady, download: