City Spotlight: Newark Makes Summer Learning a Priority

Image removed. Newark, N.J. has emerged as a national leader in the summer learning movement. Since beginning a communitywide assessment of existing summer programs in 2010, local officials have worked closely with the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), community leaders and key local partners including The Prudential Foundation, the Victoria Foundation and the United Way of Essex and West Hudson to increase access to quality local summer programs for the city’s youth.

Many of Newark’s children and youth are at risk of summer learning loss. A 2012 report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey found that approximately 43 percent of Newark’s children live in poverty, and more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Summer programs provide young people, especially those from low-income families, with an opportunity to level the academic playing field.

In 2010, the Victoria Foundation and The Prudential Foundation worked with NSLA to conduct a scan of the summer learning programs and opportunities available to school-age children in Newark in 2010 and 2011. NSLA presented initial analysis of this data to the Newark Youth Policy Board in February 2013.

The Newark Youth Policy Board brings city agencies and community partners together to explore comprehensive policy solutions to complex youth issues. The compelling findings of the community assessment led the Newark Youth Policy Board to organize a Summer Learning Work Group.

The Summer Learning Work Group includes representatives of local foundations, the city, the Workforce Investment Board, national program providers, the New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition, local universities and nonprofits, the United Way of Essex and West Hudson and court representatives. The work group has become the leading venue for Newark’s city agencies, local providers and other community partners to coordinate and collaborate in the summer space. It has identified key priorities for expanding access to summer programs and summer meals in the city, improving program quality and fostering an awareness of the “summer slide” among parents and families.

These key priorities are reflected in the city’s summer learning action plan, which was presented at a 2014 community forum attended by more than 100 community members. The action plan is included in NSLA's 2014 Community Assessment of Newark, NJ.

Newark’s leaders have embraced this call-to-action with vigor. In summer 2014, Newark Public Schools launched a revamped summer program, Summer Plus, which connects academic instruction by district teachers with enrichment activities led by community-based partners at school sites enrolling 4,000 youth throughout the city.

In addition, the Victoria Foundation and Prudential Foundation have committed to building an out-of-school time network for summer and school year programs that would coordinate funding and provide capacity building and technical assistance for providers.

As a former principal, Mayor Ras Baraka recognizes the fundamental importance of summer learning to a child’s academic success. During his transition, he outlined a plan to implement a citywide strategy for engaging youth in summer and afterschool activities year-round. Mayor Baraka’s commitment led to a series of community events throughout the city in August, when local summer programs have traditionally concluded and youth are left with few options for out-of-school time activities.

The mayor continued these efforts with New Jersey’s inaugural Statewide Mayoral Summit, which was held on April 15, 2015. The summit focused on the importance of afterschool and expanded learning time programming. When discussing the summit, Mayor Baraka stated, “As a former educator, few things are more important to me than teaching, motivating and inspiring our youth. We must give them every opportunity every hour of the day to be the best they can be – whether in school, at home, or in an afterschool program. We need programs that expand their horizons, strengthen their bodies, and empower their minds.”

With a committed and engaged Summer Learning Work Group, a Summer Learning Action Plan and ongoing work to launch a citywide Out-of-School Time Network, Newark is demonstrating the progress that a community can make when residents and community agencies come together to make summer learning a priority.

For more information, contact Catherine Wilson, Senior Director of Community Impact and Strategy for the United Way of Essex and West Hudson.