Tyler’s Camps 2016 – A Wrapup

“We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving. There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives, it’s true we’ll make a better day just you and me.”


When I sat in the audience on the last day of Tyler’s Camps, I saw 75 children who participated in Tyler’s Camp Music perform this song together.  Three young men kept tempo out in front on a full drum set, and nine soloists sang into amplified microphones.  This was their first performance. These fledgling singers and musicians came to the Salesianum stage from community agencies that serve some of our lowest income children here in Wilmington.

I was struck not only by how beautiful their voices sounded, but by the sheer feeling of inspiration they communicated through music. Through singing, they told not only their own stories, but the story of Tyler’s Camp.

Tyler’s Camp was started by a group of high school students that I had the privilege to be apart of from Padua Academy, Ursuline Academy, and Salesianum School. Through a fundraiser called SALSTHON (Students About Lifesaving), we raised $134,000 for The Summer Learning Collaborative. Through this partnership, we created something extraordinary: a powerful alliance between Delaware Sports League, SummerCollab, Salesianum, Ursuline, Hagley Museum, Wilmington Ballet, Microsoft and countless others that provided an unprecedented sports and arts camp for 250 of Wilmington’s highest-need youth.  


We named the camps after Tyler Brown, a Salesianum senior that was killed in a car accident in March. Tyler was the true picture of a modern-day Renaissance man. He explored, tried, succeeded, and sometimes failed, but he never failed to try again. Tyler was an artist, who planned to go to Syracuse University for architecture. He was involved in community service – and Tyler’s Camps is something he would have loved to be a part of.  In his spirit, we built this program to increase access to creative arts, performing arts and athletics programs for low income kids in our city. Tyler’s legacy embodied a truth that arts and sports are fundamental to our humanity – to our ability reflect and grow.

The children attending Tyler’s Camps were able to choose between 22 options ranging from field hockey to Microsoft coding to DJing to ballet to rowing to theatre. The camps were held primarily at Salesianum School and Ursuline Academy as well as a few satellite locations. The instructors were all experienced professionals willing to dedicate their energy and time to make this a high-quality experience. This opportunity drew teachers and coaches from many states along the East Coast.  

“This was the most positive teaching experience I’ve ever had,” says Angela Lindroth, music teacher from Connecticut, “It was a challenge to help each child find their niche, but when they did, it was easy to see the talent, potential, and energy they hold. A few boys came up to me the second day and said they wanted to try the drums. Others, who had a phenomenal beat and ear, became song leaders. The children made every choice and truly took ownership of the final product. Every single day they surprised me and every single day we had a fabulous time.”

Bart Atsin, an actor from New York City, taught the children how to create an animation. The kids were constantly surrounding him asking about his experience on TV shows and how he became involved in animation. They truly engaged in the lessons and were able to create a “space battle” as their final product.

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“Sometimes it is difficult to understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how something is created, but it was amazing to witness the moment the kids fully understood – it was like an awakening,” says Atsin, “The kids literally formulated their own ideas and made them into a reality, which is exactly how I hope they approach their lives. If they visualize, every single one of them can make their dreams a reality.”

This aligns with the message that the mission of Tyler’s Camps isn’t to necessarily create future professional animators, or lacrosse players, or whatever their choice in activity may be – it is to inspire kids to believe in themselves and their abilities.


In the theatre program, a girl found a passion for playwriting and ended up, with the help of her instructors, writing her own play. “To get with students who are not coming to me but to get with students who I have to go get – that exercises me in a way that is vital to my teaching,” explains Aaron Bogard, Director of Theatre at Salesianum, “We are combining fear of the unknown in a space that is not necessarily their own – yet it is the perfect storm, which means that the moments of triumph are that much more exciting.”


This experience is seen across all activities at Tyler’s Camps. Through the weeks the kids began to believe in themselves in a unique way. They became comfortable with the instructors, and therefore comfortable with accepting challenges. At the Anne Marie Dance Studio, many of the children entered camp inhibited and shy, but at the end of camp they were able to practice a lyrical dance together. It was emotional dance, and afterwards, the kids had the opportunity to share family stories – they were given the safe space to be vulnerable with people they had come to trust, in a place they had learned to love.


If I could think of one word to describe Tyler’s Camp, it would be “special.” This program is certainly “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” During the Tyler’s Camp Celebration on the last day, this was apparent to every one of the participants – supporters, campers, counselors, parents, instructors, and coordinators alike. I felt in the room the magnitude of what we all had accomplished.

“If there is one thing I can take away from working at this camp,” says Jacob Owen, a Summercollab theatre instructor, “it is that these children will not only overcome each of their own challenges, but they will be the solution to many of ours. Ask any instructor here, and I guarantee everyone will testify that they have grown both as a person and a teacher by interacting with these kids. These children are ready, bright, and willing to help, grow, and make a difference.”
Tyler’s Camps proved that when we give these children the high-quality space to experiment, innovate, make mistakes, work hard, and build up – together –  we’ve created, in the words of Michael Jackson – a better day.

Expansion Camps: Looking Forward

“The Collaborative is many things – meeting ground, capacity builder, resource generator, idea lab. But it’s chief mission is singular; to elevate community center summer camps, and in the process, give low income children a worthwhile experience.”


The Summer Learning Collaborative has worked with seven community centers for the past three years, and has provided three pillars of support to their existing summer programs  – training, curriculum and planning support.

A spinoff of Teach For America, SummerCollab serves approximately 1,200 low-income students in Wilmington.  By providing local community agencies with great talent, including over 100 teachers and top high school students recruited from across the state, along with curriculum, supplies, technology and planning support, The Collab developed a model poised to solve one of the greatest educational issues in the nation: Summer Learning Loss.  

“After three years of working so closely with seven agencies, we saw transformative growth in campers and the camps we’ve been working with,” says Founder and Executive Director Catherine Lindroth. “The journey we have all gone on together has been so meaningful for all of us — learning first what summer learning could mean for our highest need kids here in Wilmington, and then learning how we could collectively work together to ensure this became a reality for all kids enrolled in our partnering agencies.”

By the end of last year, SummerCollab’s results were clear: over 1000 kids experienced growth rather than loss. As the organization turned the corner into Summer 2016, they wondered: Do other community centers feel they have similar needs? Could their model be applicable to other agencies serving low income youth across the state? Could they scale their impact?

The United Way of Delaware, an early funder of SummerCollab, shared this interest.  And in May UWD launched their “Make Summer Smarter Grant,” providing eight agencies the opportunity to engage with Reading Is Fundamental and limited pieces of SummerCollab’s model, such as training, Instructional Coaches and Operations Specialists, top teachers and students who complete counselor observations, coaching, data analytics and supply management. Ultimately each “expansion site” program would glean very specific data on the achievement gap experienced by each of their students and insights into the capacity of their existing summer program to reverse summer learning loss.  

While all selected programs were diverse in resources, geography, and mission, they shared a common client: at minimum, 40% of each of the camp’s population was comprised of low-income youth.

One of SummerCollab’s core values is to meet camps and their leadership where they are.  No two camps are the same. As such, when they embarked on this process of “expansion” their initial efforts were meant to understand the culture of each camp they were working with and understand what each was seeking to achieve with their campers, and  – subsequently – how much progress they were making toward these goals.  

To do this, SummerCollab and United Way, through Bank Of America’s Student Leader Program, placed Operations Specialists at each site. Their mission was to explore questions related to their placement site’s respective camp culture. They explored questions that aligned directly with their camps mission:  What does character building look like in these distinct settings? Are these camps developing social skills in the effort to implement restorative justice practices? How can fun, educational summer experiences elevate the summer camp experience?

“This foothold empowered Operations Specialists and Instructional Coaches to begin providing additional support, as defined through their findings — or really just at the request of the camp leadership or counselors,” explains Lindroth.

Milli, the Operations Specialist at Brown YMCA, witnessed a shift in overall attitude as the summer went on: “Although challenged by problems such as under-staffing and scheduling, counselors began to use us as resources. I saw the counselors connecting with the kids and buying into the ideas that SLC proposed.”

“The most rewarding part of camp has been going into enrichment periods and helping counselors carry the plans out and see kids get excited about a plan I helped to create,” explains Olivia O’Dwyer, Kingswoods Operations Specialist.  “Even though we were challenged by supplies and time for preparation, it became apparent that the campers were being engaged!”

The data collected at each camp also conclusively answered the question driving SummerCollab into this engagement: the needs of community centers across the state of Delaware.

The highly functioning team of Operations Specialists – and the data that they collected – illustrated gaps in structured programming, high levels of behavioral problems, and a need for additional staffing support, planning time, and curricular tools that comes with SLC’s standard operating model.  “This summer showed us that we have value to add – and there are incredible partners in this community we want to work with – and together we have the very real opportunity to reverse the national trend of summer learning loss and close the achievement gap,” says Lindroth.   

Moving forward, SLC hopes to partner with at least four additional programs as a direct result of this summer’s “expansion site” engagement.

“It’s exciting for everyone at camp to think about the possibility of a partnership with SLC because it would keep the ‘summer camp vibe,’ while elevating the summer camp experience to be fun and educational – both decreasing behavioral issues and increasing learning,” says Operations Specialist at Bear YMCA, Maddie Tallman.

“The success of this endeavor has convinced me that with SLC’s strong curriculum, comprehensive training, supply system, and dedicated coaching, we could bring camp to a whole new level,” says Gerry Hausheer Program Manager at Kingswood. “I fully believe in the mission of SLC and see its potential to thrive in countless new capacities.”

Peace in Change

In many ways, and most ironically, the only thing that’s consistent in life – the only thing we can truly count on – is that everything is always changing. We search for stability, only to find peace in temporary, fleeting moments. Through my work with The Summer Learning Collaborative, I’ve learned the most important skill and lesson in life – how to find peace in change.


Two years ago, I sat in a Teach For America conference room to be interviewed by an extraordinary woman: Catherine Lindroth, otherwise known as “Cat,” a Yale University graduate, college athlete, world traveler, and executive director of her own startup educational nonprofit – The Summer Learning Collaborative.

As Cat sat down at the table with me, she looked at my small, shy Catholic school 17 year old frame and saw something that I had yet to see in myself. She engaged me like an adult – but it wasn’t even that – she, this amazingly accomplished woman, talked to me like I was on her level – like I was an intelligent individual.

The interview opened with the daunting question: how do you believe we can change our education system in Delaware? I certainly had opinions about this topic, but I never thought how I answered this question, on this day, could in any way impact reality.

I was wrong.

Fast forward two years. As I think back to who I was when I sat in that office all that time ago, I am the same in so many ways, yet the way I believe in my own agency, the potential of others, and the capacity of the human spirit, has drastically changed.

Last summer I worked as an Operations Specialist at a community center in Wilmington and witnessed our Summer Collaborative team reverse summer learning loss for 1,200 children. And what was most personally astounding about this feat, was that I, a high schooler, who wasn’t even trusted to vote at this point, was a critical part of this impact that literally altered the lives of Wilmington’s highest need youth.

I saw kids learn to write their names and begin to develop a sense of identity. I saw them create their own blueprints and business models and science experiments. I saw them open up and learn that even though I’m not from the same neighborhood, it doesn’t mean I can’t be a shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I know we all learned that summer that differences don’t have to divide, in fact they can bond individuals together in a way that transcends any perceived bounds.  

These kids took a risk. They trusted, even if it was hard, and loved, when it was even harder. If they could take those big risks, I knew I couldn’t give up on them. This morphed from being a summer endeavor to a life endeavor – from a job to a family.

Cat welcomed me onto their administrative team during my senior year, and if it was possible, she made me feel even more empowered. She trusted me to fill out grants, analyze data, and work on decks – never once doubting I was capable and never giving me enough time to doubt myself.

One evening she invited me to a dinner event at a funder’s home – I will never forget this night. The event was at the nicest house I perhaps had ever walked into, and out of all the wealthy, intelligent, and accomplished people there, when Cat gave her pitch, she made sure to mention me. No more did I feel like the shy 17 year old just trying to get through high school – I felt like that intelligent individual whose opinion about our school system mattered.

The evenings I spent interning for Cat made my week – I always walked out of the office feeling as if I had accomplished something that would truly have an impact. I finally understood the age old sentiment everyone hears from their parents “when you’re older, it’s not about the money, it’s about doing a job you love.”

Well I, as a teenager, was doing it right now. And as I continued to look to Cat for countless guidance, she gave me faith that someday I could have an ounce of the passion and drive that she possesses for the SummerCollab – she gave me the gift of learning so early how it feels to be a part of a meaningful mission and I have hope that whatever I do in the rest of my life – I will not settle for any less than walking away with that same exact feeling.

This summer, Cat gave me an unparalleled opportunity. She sat down and asked me a much simpler question than last summer: “what do you want to do with your life?” My answer was immediate – a journalist. Her response was, “well then I guess the SummerCollab has a new in-residence journalist.”

So that is what I have been. Before I go to college, I am able to confidently say – not “I want to be a journalist” – but “I am a journalist.” The experience I’ve gained, the people I’ve talked to, and the SLC team I’ve had the privilege to work for, have changed everything for me. Cat, has changed everything for me.

Through this experience I have been empowered to say that if our society works together in the way I’ve learned to with the Summer Collab, there are truly no limits. I have been empowered to believe that I can change anything I set my mind to and inspired to dedicate myself to improving others’ quality of life.

Even though I have a much better sense now, as opposed to two years ago, of who I am and what I want, everything is still about to change for me, as I move into college in less than ten days. Change is difficult, but I’ve come to realize that change is the reason we’ve been able to positively affect the lives of so many children. Change lies at the core of what SLC stands for, and what I, myself, have adopted, without even fully realizing it.

So, if 1,200 kids were impacted this summer by the Summer Learning Collaborative – make that 1,201 – because I learned something big. I learned how to find peace with change.

Inventor’s Workshop


Each summer program holds 70-250 kids ready to get up, get moving, and do something. Combine this energy with a 21-Century learning approach geared to foster collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving, and you’ve got a space conducive to invention.


The curriculum “Inventor’s Workshop” teaches kids the basics of simple and complex machines and how to construct them. Shandy, The Curriculum Director from the Walnut Street YMCA explains, “The curriculum not only expanded their vocabulary but also gave them a solid understanding of how these machines work and function.”  This understanding is due to the learning approach that the material learned must be practiced in a hands-on manner.


“From the very beginning of the first lesson, the kids were engaged,” explains Tracy Gamerman, the Instructional Coach at Fraim Boys and Girls Club, “Many of them had no previous knowledge of levers, pulleys, etc. so hands-on learning was the right way to challenge them. They were learning through engagement, and it really stuck with them.”


One of the first activities was to put together miniature cars. The kids had to employ their problem-solving skills to fit together the various wheels and axles. They not only used their own new-found knowledge though – they also relied on each other. Throughout the activity the kids were constantly telling each other, “look what I did,” and suggesting “oh maybe try this,” which demonstrated they had faith in their abilities and we’re proud of what they could accomplish.


The hands-on portion of the lesson demonstrated physical innovations, and as the week progressed, the kids also had the opportunity to explore mental innovations. They were asked to write about an invention of their own making. Without explicitly asking, the campers automatically thought out of the box and used their imaginations. This proved so successful that Kaityln Zant, the Instructional Coach at the Latin American Community Center, decided to synthesize the mental and physical. Her group was able to construct a life-size time machine that they had imagined – showing the true nature of invention.


“The kids really were engaged in the inventors curriculum and liked the ability to be innovative,” says Bain Manley, the Instructional Coach from West End Neighborhood House, “I worked with the older kids and when it came to actually building something, there was a pride they felt when what they built actually came together. They thrived on the challenge. I think these kids look for opportunities to have pride in something that is theirs. Even when the task seemed impossible, they still approached it with optimism and enthusiasm.”

Over at Fraim Boys and Girls Club, they have morning “Glows & Grows” with all the campers in the gym. At the end of the Inventor’s Workshop week on Friday morning, all the campers enthusiastically shouted out the SLC curriculum as the highlight of their week and talked about all the different machines they had made and how they work. Tracy says, “This was the moment when we knew it was more than about a successful curriculum or lesson – it’s about inspiration and innovation – it’s about lighting kids up about learning.”



Instructional Coach: From Coaching to Confidence

How do counselors with minimal teaching experience successfully and effectively execute a hands on, engaging lesson – that feels nothing like school?

The Summer Learning Collaborative tackles this challenge with an innovative position on an unprecedented scale:  the instructional coach.

This summer, with the support of funding from Laffey Mchugh and United Way, sixteen SummerCollab Instructional Coaches spent their summer working with counselors across seven community based agencies.

On a typical day, IC’s spend their time observing counselors, providing feedback on the execution of the lessons, and developing comprehensive plans for improvement. They act as a catalyst for growth of both the counselor’s skills and the camp’s moral.

Meet Kaitlyn: during the school year, she’s a Third Grade Special Ed teacher at East Side Charter, but in the summer months she utilizes her teaching abilities as the IC at the Latin American Community Center. “At the beginning of the summer, TC’s were uncertain in their ability to execute curriculum. Now it is week 5, and it’s been incredible to see how the they have improved. I see the TCs taking ownership of the curriculum and confidently making it their own.”

Holding counselors accountable, not under an authority figure but from someone who works on the same team, has created amazing results. Throughout the summer, IC’s and TC’s develop strong relationships with one another. The TC’s feel free to share their feelings and concerns, and the IC’s work countless hours to help them improve. Across the board, counselors who originally had their “pants on fire,” are gaining new skills. They have became more comfortable talking in front of the class and managing behavior issues.


“I saw my TC’s confidence grow leaps and bounds from week 1 to week 5,” says Laura, the Instructional Coach from Shortlidge Academy, “The TC I worked with fully bought into the SLC curriculum. Recently, she developed a background lesson to prepare kids for a lesson on perimeter and area, and after she taught it, she came back saying ‘that felt so awesome.’”

At the YMCA, IC’s Anyea and Tiffany saw immense growth in their TC’s as well, especially in their ability to problem-solve. There was a curriculum club scheduled in the gym, which was far from an optimal learning space. In order to minimize distraction, the TC’s found a whiteboard and set up tables and chairs  in a “U” formation. All of the children were much more engaged and comfortable, and the TC’s gained confidence in their abilities to innovate and keep the children on task by changing the environment.

As IC’s and TC’s continue to work together, the mission of SLC – to help children learn during the summer months – has begun to be fully present in camps. “Some kids began to catch onto why we was there as opposed to why they were there. They knew the TC’s and I were there to make sure the lessons were going smoothly. We observed that some children were doing activities because of genuine interest and a desire to excel, while others took longer to warm up to the idea of learning in the summer. It was inspiring to see their “let’s just get this over with” attitudes develop into deep fascination with the different activities.”

As most IC’s are teachers, this experience has greatly shaped how the they will go back into their classrooms in the fall. “This was my first time in a leadership coaching role, and it was difficult to take a backseat in the classroom. But coaching made me more confident in my TC, and in turn, I learned so much from watching her teach. I figured out things I had never known about myself and that has made me more confident as a teacher,” says Laura, IC at Shortlidge Academy, who has a very strong bond with her TC, Catherine.
This experience also provides insight into exactly how much kids need to continue learning in the summer and the potential the summer space holds. “I’ve seen kids intrigued. I’ve seen TC’s get into the lessons, and I’ve seen kids ask questions. I saw this opportunity and I thought – I believe in everything this organization stands for – I have to help,” says Bain Manley, the Instructional Coach at West End Neighborhood House, “When you see something spark in a child, you know that spark will not die out. There is only forward from here.”


Catherine, a TC from Shortlidge saw this spark: “I have a child who never wants to do their work due to low confidence. When we were doing a math lesson, I asked him to show me his work after every problem. We worked through it together, and I gave him positive feedback. Soon, he completed every single problem, and as he held up his paper, I knew this was a feeling completely and wonderfully new to him.” This sort of interaction is exactly what the IC’s foster, and evidence to their widespread impact in the camp.

This unique organizational model provides support on many levels. Most directly at the TC role, but it also to the children. The IC’s have the opportunity to get to know all the different personalities of the kids in order to better personalize and shape their learning experience. As I spoke to Laura, she teared up as she said, “They just want love, and this speaks to every layer of the Collaborative – that’s why we are all here. We’re in each other’s corners. There is ‘no I’m telling you what to do’ whether that be between team members or TC and kids – there is just mutual understanding and love.”


“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek, American Poet.



When I walked into the Shortlidge Boys & Girls Club today, the only word that came to mind was “unity.” There was laughter. There was camaraderie and fun. There was a effortless synergy in the camp – a seamless system that operated from mutual understanding, respect, and friendship.

The SLC Shortlidge team includes Operations Specialist Michael Chen, a rising junior at Newark Charter High School, Instructional Coach Casey Krouse, a third grade teacher at Family Foundations Academy, Instructional Coach Laura Knappenberger, a third grade teacher at Gateway Lab School, and Curriculum Director Anthony Bonaddio, a Student Support Specialist.

From the very beginning of the summer, the leader of the team, Bonaddio, made sure everyone felt welcomed. Before curriculum started, he met with everyone to discuss their personal goals for this summer. They then, as team members do, listened to his. Knappenberger testified to the fact that there wasn’t a long acclimation period because their personalities mixed and blended naturally well and quickly.

There was no need for formal team building. “The best way to explain it would be that we formed organically. We understood quickly that we had to jump into the fire and expect a lot of on the fly adjusting,” says Bonaddio, “we know that there is no such thing as ‘picture perfect’ and instead strive to produce the best product we can.”

The Shortlidge team, as is expected at any camp, was met with many obstacles. Scheduling, timing, understaffing, inconsistency, supplies…all daily struggles. Yet, I could tell by their dynamic that there was never a moment of discouragement or doubt. They problem solved together, going outside of their job descriptions to help one another. Whenever an issue arose, they always asked each other for advice – in the belief that everyone’s input is valuable, regardless of age or background.

This free-form, accepting mindset is what has made Shortlidge so successful. Each member of the team is pushing each other to be better. “Stepping out of our comfort zone is what this summer is all about,” says Knappenberger, “in order to handle situations to the best of our abilities we must make this space our own and always, always, improve.”

As I saw the team interact and work together, it was apparent that even on the most stressful of days, they had fun. They clearly enjoy being around each other and exercised their ability to speak freely. This comfort level has spread to the rest of the B&G staff. Each member of the SLC team has sat down multiple times with all of the counselors, to check in and simply talk. “It doesn’t feel like the SLC team and the B&G Club team are separate…we are connected – we are all in this together,” says Chen.


These teams have worked together to utilize the resources they have been provided, teach the curriculum with fidelity, and turn this summer experience into one the kids will always remember. During capture the flag last week, the counselors tailored the lesson so they could play outside on a larger scale. They knew what would keep the kids engaged, and this is the sort of spirit they inject into everything they do.

“This experience has allowed me to mature,” says Chen, “I was used to being the leader at school or at home, but now I am part of a team. Relying on other people has taught me that you can’t do everything by yourself and that it is more than okay to ask for help.”

Shortlidge has truly taken the spirit of collaboration to heart. They have learned how to maximize their potential as a team and execute a high-quality summer experience for our highest-need youth. This represents everything the SummerCollab stands for at it’s core. This is about teamwork – this is about collaboration – this is about unity and love.

“We are each other’s best resources, and in this building, we are each other’s best friends.” – Bonaddio


“Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing to 

happen to the human brain.” – John Steinbeck


We couldn’t agree more.  

When I walked into both the Latin American Community Center and Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center today, I saw this “revolutionary” process firsthand. Volunteers from Salesianum and Operations Specialists were working with children on data driven, individualized, and targeted activities tailored to teach them the fundamentals of reading.

At the entrance to The Latin American Community Center, Nancy Aragbaye, a Curriculum Director for The Summer Learning Collaborative, welcomes three new volunteers from Padua and Salesianum to the center.  She shows them special uno cards that they will play 1:1 with kids to help improve word recognition. This is but one of many strategies Nancy will employ over the course of several weeks this summer to provide data driven and targeted activities tailored to teach children the fundamentals of reading.

Nancy, who taught 5th and 6th grade through Teach For America, brings five years of experience working with countless children who barely knew how to recognize words, let alone read full sentences. Due to the immense and critical needs of her kids, Nancy struggled to provide her students with the fundamentals they needed, while still maintaining the rigor of her assigned school curriculum. This structure made it nearly impossible to provide the personalized interventions her students’ needed.  

The Summer Learning Collaborative provided her with a solution: a flexible environment that allows her to take a step back and teach kids the fundamentals in a fun and engaging way.

For several weeks, Nancy studied the trends in data collected by Let’s Go Learn, an online research-based diagnostic assessment of reading and math.  Her research unearthed a startling fact: the average third grader attending LACC’s summer program was scoring at the kindergarten level. This aligned with what Nancy had seen in her classroom experience, but – outside any red tape and in a flexible learning environment she was empowered to make a change.

“Now,” Aragbaye explains, “each day we pull struggling kids out of their general camp group. Volunteers work with the children to develop the specific topics they struggled with in the Let’s Go Learn assessment.”

According to a study done by RAND Corporation on personalized learning, “Achievement analyses find that personalized learning has a positive effects on student reading performance and that the lowest-performing students made substantial gains relative to their peers.” We are indeed seeing this firsthand at LACC in our students receiving individualized attention. Kids are reading through play and loving it. Through this targeted reading intervention, our kids are fully realizing that they matter and their progress matters.

This summer, Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center also instituted their own innovative reading program. Melany Justice, a Curriculum Director for The Summer Learning Collaborative, created the program in collaboration with her professors at Johns Hopkins, and Maryann Ireland, a Hilltop academic volunteer. They developed a language test to accompany the data from Let’s Go Learn to gather a comprehensive set of data for each child. This test focused on comprehension and spelling, two very important indicators that Melany analyzed. Using this information, she developed a program that aims to help children learn to read, while also form the beginning fundamentals of writing.

Every day Hilltop’s Operations Specialists, Maryan and Dhruv, pull out individual campers, chosen based on their assessment results. Each intervention session begins with a game, for example spelling practice formatting much like a spelling bee, all of which are incorporated with vocabulary practice focused on sight-word recognition and phonics.

“The very special thing about this program is that each lesson is tailored specifically for each child” explains Melany. “The level of difficulty is customized to fall in their “instructional” level. This targeted reading intervention approach maximizes their ability to learn by avoiding the “basic” and “frustration” levels, which simply means they have some mastery but are still challenged.”
The child then proceeds to read aloud and answer comprehension questions. Melany has incorporated both explicit and implicit learning into her lessons, and the children are encouraged to form and express opinions about the stories. At the end of the lesson, Dhruv and Maryam update progress charts that make sure each following session specifically targets skills to be reviewed and new material to be learned based on the child’s progress and learning techniques.

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I was fortunate enough to observe these sessions, and it was uplifting to hear the children talk about reading. Ramaya wanted to take the books home to read, Washim’s favorite book is “A Cat in the Hat,” and Devon shyly, yet proudly, told me she could now read on her own. Dhruv, the Operation Specialist, who works with these kids individually for hours, said, “easily the most rewarding thing I do every day is working with the kids and seeing them smile when they learn something new or when we read a book together.”

Although this is only the third week of both programs, the gains are apparent – in the way that children’s faces light up when recognizing a new word, the way volunteers and OS’s interact with our highest-need youth, and the way change has inspired the LACC and Hilltop communities.

Throughout the school year children are herded in large class sizes through Common Core Standards, whether or not they know the basic foundations of the content they are meant to master.  Unfortunately this means that many of our city’s highest need kids will never become literate:  they will never master the basic skills that underpin future success.  The Collaborative’s mission is to leverage summer – and in particular data and strong teams within community agencies – to respond to the individual needs of children.  

“Our school system is often a blunt force tool to children who require individual attention and support, ”explains Catherine Lindroth, Founder and Executive Director of SummerCollab.  “Summer offers us a unique opportunity to help non readers build a strong foundation for literacy; we can ensure our highest need children go back to school as stronger readers, with a strengthened belief in their personal power.”

“Change is the theme,” says Rahul Sabbaraya, a SummerCollab Operations Specialist at Walnut Street YMCA.  “These programs have the potential to drive change in “revolutionary” ways.”

Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My!


When a child stays at camp longer to work on a project, he is engaged in the project. And when a child tells her parent excitedly about the activities at camp, she is having a memorable experience. And when these children plan, develop, and execute a product, they are learning life skills.

These elements are what sets an academic curriculum that instructs apart from an academic curriculum that inspires, excites, and engages. SLC’s Circus curriculum truly encapsulates all of these goals. Last week, “Circus” was implemented at the YMCA on Walnut Street and Shortlidge Academy, and it was incredible to hear how the experience impacted their communities.

About 80% of the campers had never been to a circus, so, for many, this was a completely new experience. Children were grouped into teams and given ownership over what they wanted to perform, how they wanted to perform, and how they wanted to structure their practices. The result was a free-form thinking space that gave our campers the opportunity to be innovative – they created blueprints of how to decorate the gym, pricing charts for the concession stand, and a script for the skits.

The campers worked on their projects throughout the week, and the theme culminated with a “Circus Day.” The teams excitedly set their plans in motion. They decorated the gym, hung posters on the walls, blew up balloons and beach balls, and performed on a stage framed by a parachute doubled as a backdrop. The counselors rallied around student interest in the curriculum, jumping into circus activities with the kids. Campers enjoyed experiences of their own design: face-painting, concession stands, music, popcorn, games and prizes.

“This curriculum was excellent because it got the kids in front of crowds allowing them to perform something they got to work with all week,” explained Shandy Perez, The Collaborative’s Curriculum Director at Walnut Street YMCA. “They had the courage to say – I’m going to perform – I’m going to come up here and be the lion or the juggler or whatever I want to be.”

One such performer, Brysheem, sang “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa, electrifying the audience with his extraordinary talent. He captured all of us – the audience, counselors and campers alike- with his soulful, honest, and clear voice.

In this moment, the bigger picture of The Collaborative also pierced through:  this is what our eight months of work leading up to summer was all about.  Beyond Curriculum Directors and Instructional Coaches, Curriculum and supply distribution, this was about kids bursting with potential.  Brysheem was listened to and appreciated and applauded for something he was good at. This is a moment that many take for granted but that countless inner city communities never get to experience. This is change.


In the wise words of Wiz Khalifa (beautifully sang by Brysheem), we “had to switch it up, look at things different, see the bigger picture,” and this is exactly what the Summer Collaborative has done through their nuanced approach to partnership with inner city community centers.  The kids at The YMCA and Shortlidge this week made a circus.  But we know they made much more than that – they were given the safe space to create, make mistakes, break down, and build up again – one of the most valuable tools in life.

Meet Rick & Miss T from the YMCA

By Emma Derr

Roderick (Rick) is a counselor at the YMCA. He grew up in Bear and graduated from Caravel in 2011. He is a current student at UD with a business management major and organizational and community leadership minor.

When campers walk into the YMCA every morning, bright and early, they see Rick’s smiling face. He is in charge of checking all the campers in before they start their day. But this is the only time you’ll see him sitting down – as soon as sign in is over he’s off playing games with the kids.

Throughout the rest of the day, Rick is teaching clubs, normally Reading is Fundamental, a program to help kids enhance their reading comprehension skills, and science.

When I asked him what his favorite club was, his hands went up as he said, “Science – by far, science. One of my favorite parts of being a counselor is seeing the kids’ reactions to the science experiments we do together.”

These academic clubs are part of the Summer Collaborative’s effort to give kids the opportunity to learn during the summer in a fun, engaging, and lasting way. Rick has seen the way the program has positively impacted kids in the program, especially in many individuals whose attitudes have improved.

Rick commented that his summer at the YMCA has changed his life as well. He had planned to become a businessman, but he decided that instead of waking up every morning, donning a sharp suit, and grabbing his business briefcase, he would rather work at a school. He told me he learned that the “fanciness” wasn’t going to help others – but a job in education would. His goal is to do Teach For America after he graduates, and then move on to a career in school administration.

When asked to discuss how the YMCA has impacted campers’ lives this summer, Rick said, “Finding out that they can enjoy science or reading – that even though it is school related they can have fun with it – that’s one of the biggest take away the kids have this summer – there’s more to life than sports and gossip.

Tierre, (otherwise known as Miss T), has been working as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA for five years. She has a very special relationship with the YMCA and the kids at the camp. Since Tierre grew up in Wilmington, she finds it easy to relate to the kids, and they find it easy to talk and confide in her.

Growing up, Tierre spent her summers stepping in the streets. When she became a camp counselor, she wanted to help others recognize their own passion for step dancing, so she created a step program at the YMCA. Her thriving step team practices every day after camp and will perform at the talent show on August 7.

Between practices and coordinating the step program, Tierre teaches many academic clubs. She has recognized many positive changes this summer: “Now that the kids can choice into clubs, they are more content, which translates to fewer behavior problems. They also need the academics, so figuring out they can learn while having fun is a phenomenal change.”

As Tierre approaches her senior year at Delaware State University, she contemplates what is in store for her after school. Originally, she had planned to move to Georgia, but now she has realized that she wants to stay – “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I realized that I need to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”