Happy, healthy students who are eager to be in the classroom to learn – could educators and parents be dreaming? Thanks to out-of-school time partners and Hamilton County Schools Summer REACH program, this is in fact, a 2021 reality.
In our Chattanooga 2.0 2021 Report to the Community, we stressed the fact that proficiency in reading by third grade is the single most important predictor of long-term educational and life success. Yet, school-aged children in our community spend over 80% of their time outside of school. To ensure that they are on track by third grade, it is important to address not only in-school factors, but out-of-school as well. Doing so ensures that students are physically and emotionally safe, civically and socially connected, and thus able to be academically and vocationally productive.
Out-of-school time (OST) providers play an important role in helping students with academic achievements and social and emotional skills. This is one of the reasons why Chattanooga 2.0 strategies include increasing participation in afterschool programs, increasing the number of community schools partnerships, and scaling the Individualized Student Success Planning (ISSP) pilot.
This summer, the Chattanooga 2.0 OST Alliance members have been focusing on their partnership with Hamilton County Schools for the new Summer REACH program. This program provides students up to 30 days of additional learning before the academic school year begins, by combining traditional summer camp with morning academic instruction. At no cost to families, REACH provides students with summer fun and learning with friends.
Brody Scott, the Community School Coordinator for Northside Neighborhood House has been working the Summer REACH program at Loftis Middle School. “I have worked with summer camps in some capacity for 11 years now. My favorite change I see in kids during summer programming is due to the fact that they get to be in a safe space, free from a lot of the stressors associated with school and home. This allows them to let some walls down and get to know each other (and themselves) on a deeper level. On top of that, it’s summer, so they just get to be kids and have fun!”
Chattanooga 2.0’s OST Alliance is building on a foundation from their partnership with the school district in 2020. HCS and the Hamilton County Children’s Cabinet worked with OST providers to identify and reach out to underserved students who could most benefit from academic support over the summer. The product of this collaboration was over 5,000 of HCS’s highest-needs students supported with summer learning enrichment aimed at addressing learning loss, giving students a jumpstart for the coming academic year, and helping students maintain social and emotional connections.
Bill Rush of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga and Rachel Gammon of Northside Neighborhood House are co-leads of the Chattanooga 2.0 OST Alliance. “The OST and HCS alliance has provided common, shared and invested goals that align for one purpose; to provide all students with the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Rush.
In Fall 2020, the OST Alliance and the district joined forces again with local faith-based organizations to open virtual learning centers across the district, providing either full or part-time support to working families with children engaging in remote learning. Gammon said, “When OST providers align closely with the school system, the whole child and family unit have more connectivity overall to the caring community that is working to fulfill their ultimate goal: for their children to be safe and successful.”
This summer, 6,200 students and 700 staff members signed up for the REACH program, which will take place across 41 sites in the district in June and July.
“To my knowledge, this partnership is unlike any across the state and is a unique demonstration of an intentional partnership between a school district and a coalition of out-of-school time providers,” said Rush. “Our collaboration over the previous 12 months created a foundation of trust and the mutual acknowledgement that we must all create a common pathway that supports the academic, social-emotional and health needs of all students. HCS recognized the importance in having the support of the OST providers, while the OST providers recognized that they must pivot from their typical operations to align with the school district’s goals. Together, we bonded through our shared vision to support all students to every corner of Hamilton County.”
The OST Alliance is a key partner with the Hamilton County Children’s Cabinet in helping to align the public and private sectors to support the needs of children in our community.
“REACH has been different from other summer camps, because I don’t think any of the students are taking the opportunity to be together in person and learn together for granted,” said Scott. “Although the pandemic is still very much a reality, kids are just excited to be with one another comfortably and safely. This has led to some awesome engagement from students in the classroom, and a variety of new friendships across schools and demographics.”
And after the hardships the students in our community endured in 2020, that’s perhaps more than we could hope for.