Summer Scholars is a community-based program for at-risk elementary students in Northeast Denver who are significantly below grade level in reading. It began five years ago with 20 students in one school and has expanded to 953 students in 18 schools. The literacy initiative grew out of Denver's 1993 Summer of Violence, as a neighborhood response to the dramatic increase in teenage crime. Since 1993, more than 4,000 students participated in the six-week, full-day summer program. Summer Scholars also recruits 300 tutors each year to work with the same students during the school year, a total of some 1,200 volunteers.
Summer Scholars now serves one-fourth of Denver's public elementary schools (DPS) and other schools continuously ask to join. They are impressed by the success rate of the program. Pre- and post-tests administered in 1998, revealed that the reading skills of 80% of the students improved significantly. Attendance is better than it has ever been. In 1998, 74% of students missed only three or fewer days. Due to the positive impact of Summer Scholars, DPS started its own mandatory summer literacy program two years ago, modeled in part, after Summer Scholars' voluntary program.
Literacy levels were low when Summer Scholars started, more than 75% of DPS' 35,000 elementary students were reading below grade level. Writing levels were even worse. Since declining literacy is a national problem that warrants preventative interventions, Summer Scholars combines the reading program with community partnerships to expand services to at-risk learners. Denver Parks & Recreation provides afternoon recreation including Red Cross swim lessons for almost two-thirds of the students. The city's Scientific & Cultural Facilities District recruits cultural groups to provide afternoon enrichment and multi-cultural programming. For example, the Children's Museum donated a walk-in globe to teach geography and the Colorado Children's Chorale, an international touring choir, taught singing at four schools. Kids then performed for their parents.
Summer Scholars recruits and trains academically strong teenagers to help in the summer classrooms as teacher aides and role models for the younger students. In 1998, 75 teen interns, aged 13 to 18, were hired and placed. In addition, teacher training in balanced literacy is a high priority and paid for by DPS. Every summer classroom has its own literacy coach and teachers are required to take weekly classes taught by the coaches.
Parent involvement is another key aspect of Summer Scholars. All teachers are required to do family visits. They also plan a family literacy event, which range from breakfast burritos, to ice cream socials, to evening performances and storytelling.
Two years ago, Summer Scholars started a school-year pilot program for all primary students at a local elementary school. The pilot uses the same approach: balanced literacy, small reading groups of 15 students to 1 teacher, community volunteers and parent involvement. During the first year, students went from 32% at grade level in reading in September to 80% at grade level in May. In 1998, Summer Scholars was accepted as a VISTA project, utilizing a VISTA volunteer at each of 17 summer schools, and six additional VISTA's at school-year sites where they are implementing a "Million Minute" reading program. Students must read at least 100 minutes per week outside school to win rewards. In addition, corporations like the Colorado Rockies and Kaiser Permanente adopt schools to help fund the summer program and recruit tutors during the school year.