dog days

City's summer program launch gets an endorsement in research

Francesca Martinez, left, and Alexis Noa
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Francesca Martinez, left, and Alexis Noa participated in the city's Summer Youth Employment Program in 2008.

Summer break gave way to the world of work for tens of thousands of teenagers today with the start of the city’s annual youth employment program.

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott kicked off this year’s employment season today at Queens Botanical Gardens, which is employing 35 of the 31,700 youth enrolling in summer work or training programs.

The city’s Summer Youth Employment Program has long been a model for other cities trying to keep teenagers occupied and productive during the dog days of summer. New Yorkers between the ages of 14 and 21 are selected by lottery to take on seven-week paid internships with community organizations. Since the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development took over the program in 2003, SYEP participants have also received educational programming about health, career, college, and financial literacy.

Participants don’t have to be enrolled in school, but those who are reap academic benefits, according to a team of New York University researchers who followed 2007’s SYEP 36,000 applicants in grades 8 through 11 through the following year. In a policy brief released today, the researchers conclude that students randomly selected for SYEP positions attend, on average, two more days of school the following year than students who applied for SYEP jobs but were not selected.

The benefits were even larger for students who had been frequently absent in the past and larger than that for students over 16 who had attended school less than 95 percent of the time in the previous year, the researchers found. Those students took and passed required Regents exams in math and English more often than students who had not been picked for SYEP.

The results suggest that taking on a job can stem the phenomenon that some educators and researchers call the “summer slide”: academic regression that takes place when classes are not in session. One estimate says students lose the equivalent of two months of instruction in math and reading between June and September.

“The research is clear that summer learning loss disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable low-income students, which is why it is so important that we continue to support our city’s summer jobs programs and pilot new initiatives,” Walcott said in a statement today.

One of the new initiatives, Summer Quest, aims to provide summer instruction and enrichment for elementary and middle school students who struggled on their state tests, but not so much that they were required to attend summer school. Twelve South Bronx schools are working with community groups to pilot the program, which Walcott announced in April.

The other new program is for students at high schools that offer hands-on training in specific industries. The first set of 100 “Bank of America Career and Technical Education Summer Scholars” will take on internships in the information technology field.

All together, the three programs are enrolling 31,700 youth this summer. That’s still over 25 percent smaller than it was 2008, when more than 43,000 teenagers and young adults held jobs through SYEP alone.

But with SYEP bankrolled largely with city, state, and federal funding, several consecutive years of shrinking budgets took a toll. To launch the new programs, the Department of Education and Department of Youth and Community Development cobbled together donations from nearly 20 private foundations and companies.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.