Jaffe Awards Honors SummerCollab for Contributions to Women’s and Children’s Health and Well-Being

Wilmington DE, Oct. 18, 2018 –  The ascena Foundation has recognized SummerCollab and its founder & CEO, Catherine Lindroth, along with two other extraordinary changemakers, with a Roslyn S. Jaffe Award.  

“The Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards is a not-for-profit program that gives financial awards to everyday heroes who are making the world a better place for women and children specifically in the areas of health, education, social reform and self-esteem. These awards honor the lifelong contributions of Roslyn S. Jaffe,” founder of dressbarn.

Over 2,500 nominations were received, and three awards given this year.  One of the top prizes was awarded to SummerCollab for their work in Delaware.

Read the full press release here. 


Announcing the First Annual Tyler Brown Memorial Wrestling Tournament

1st Annual Tyler Brown Memorial Wrestling Tournament

Saturday November 3, 2018 – A.I. du Pont High School 50 – Hillside Rd. Wilmington, DE  19807

All proceeds benefit the SummerCollab/Tyler’s Camp Just Mentoring program which assists middle school students to succeed in their transition to high school. 

Click here to register for the event!

Tournament Director: Vic Leonard

Address:  2615 Bardell Drive Wilmington, DE  19808                                                                     

Phone: 302-229-4496  EMAIL: tigerwrestler2@comcast.net

TIMES: 12:00 noon for Bantam/Midget/Junior – 2:00 PM for Intermediate/Advanced/ Elite/Open

WEIGH-INS: Friday November 2nd -6pm to 8pm and Saturday November 3rd – 8:30am to 10:30am

Student-Centered Instruction: A Portfolio

SummerCollab’s curriculum dispels of the notion of “the right answer.” At the beginning of every class, students receive a challenge, an open-ended one, one that can be solved in a variety of ways. Our lesson plans do not prescribe solutions that our students must reach. Instead, they propose possible “Guiding Questions” that instructors might ask them when they hit a roadblock.

Students need to be able to think for themselves. They need to be able to overcome obstacles either by persevering on their own or through a collaboration with their peers. As such, our Teacher Counselors act not as content experts, but thought partners. We ask our Teacher Counselors to put the student at the center of each lesson. But to do this, one must be able to think like a student. They have to internalize what it feels like to sit in front of a problem without an answer. Through this empathic approach, instructors generate authentic Guiding Questions, opening an exchange of ideas that directs students toward a solution without supplying one.

Megan Kammer is a Teacher Counselor at Kingswood Community Center. In this portfolio, you will see Megan engaging with one of her students during instructional time. The challenge: create a model of a food-chain using styrofoam cups and drawing tools. Each cup should bear a drawing and the name of an animal. Students must then stack their cups in the order that their food chain follows. This series of photographs clearly illustrates what it looks like when an instructor and a student are engaged in an exchange of ideas. This is what it looks like when an instructor thinks like a student.


Seeing the Invisible: a Conversation on Culture

Culture lies at the core of any organization. A healthy culture lies central to efficacy in the classroom, in administrations, in the workplace, at home–pretty much anywhere we interact with other people. What kind of culture sustains trust or hard work? What are the facets of a healthy culture?

The Christina Cultural Arts Center is a staple of education and the arts in Wilmington. Since its founding, it has served members of its community by creating opportunities to engage in the arts, across genres, disciplines, and styles.  Kim Graham is the Education Director at Christina Cultural Arts Center. Ms. Graham has worked with a range of organizations around the work of building intentional culture within their communities. She spoke with creative director Noah Friedman last week to answer some of our questions around culture. 

“An opening conversation”

Why is culture in important when starting a dialogue with campsites?

Our initial conversation around culture is going to be focused on organizational culture, with a focus on camp culture, so it’s a little distinct from having a larger conversation around cultural competency and cultural informed practice. But it is certainly a facet of it.

It’s important in the beginning because we think about what we want to achieve and where we want to go without necessarily thinking about whether or not my environment is conducive to the things I want to achieve, and so having an opening conversation about the way you want people to feel and think when they are in your environment–if you say you value creativity but there is no outlet for creativity, do you really have a culture of creativity–so it just gives an opportunity for people to really take a look at what exists in their current environment, and is it what they want to be, and if not, how do they go about changing it?


Does a conversation about culture have to be specific to the unique characteristics of environment? Does context play a key role in the shape of the conversation?

Yes and no–I think the conversation is the same wherever you go in terms of beginning a dialogue about culture. Culture is often the invisible thing. Even as I’ve been preparing for our conversation [with SummerCollab], I wonder how I have the same conversation within my own organization. I do think that camps are unique in the sense that, particularly within SummerCollab, that you’re not only talking about understanding the culture of your camp environment but all of the components of culture that are coming from the different players. There is often a need to blend or meld cultures for camp that is different than someone that’s in the same organization every day, all year.


Why is blending important?

It’s important because almost any word that you pick–if you say “leadership” or “respect”–is defined differently by different people. Having an intentional conversation allows people to understand either how we see it similarly, or if we have a difference, how we align that difference.

Expectation is another big one–if you have people who have a different view of what it means to be orderly, for instance, than the camp may have for being orderly, then you might have conflicts that are emerging out of a lack of communication and a lack of some type of norming. Culture conversation helps us to be intentional about fleshing those things out.

There seems like you have to find some sort of middle ground between cultural expectations. But I imagine that when you are engaging new staff it’s actually more like identifying preconceptions about culture and then bringing the new party closer to the ideal that you’re trying to set at your site. Does that make sense?

Yes, I think so. Concrete examples are always helpful–let’s say that you say that your culture is student-led and youth focused. But when you’re pressed, you really don’t have the mechanisms that indicate how you get student feedback, and there is no process in place for student leaders to express their thought, well, then you are not really student-led. Or if you say that you value a fun and interactive environment and all of your rules are worded as “don’ts,” then that doesn’t really reflect who you say you are. Or you are in a building where all of the artifacts on the wall espouse one thing when you say you are all about another thing. Sometimes it challenges you to just take a look at your own world through the lens of how someone else might view it, and is that carrying the message that you want them to take away?

Seeing the Invisible

You said that culture is often the invisible thing–how do you make it visible when you work with an organization and how does the organization, in turn, make it visible internally?

Both come back to intentionality. I’ll use an example: we are on-boarding an intern and I wanted to have a conversation about the culture of our organization. So there is a new staff person who has been here almost two years. My statement was that my organization feels like a big family and we have to often balance keeping that feel with staying task-focused and meeting our goals and expectations so that you can’t get lulled into a casual feel and forget that there is a machine and that there is data and that there is a drive. And the staff-member was able to articulate that that’s exactly what she felt when she first came in–who are these people who are trying to be my friends? I’m just trying to work here. And how sometimes that made her feel left out because the people that had embraced that sense of family may have seemed closer, and she couldn’t always find her way in.

So if you think about that, a way to make it intentional is, first of all, to have that kind of conversation with new staff to create pathways for them to feel connected without feeling bombarded by people entering their cosmic personal space.

Things I think we could do [at CCAC] differently is have a big poster when you come in that says, “We are a village. Welcome to the tribe.” So then, how do you create artifacts that create that? If you believe in communication, how can you ensure that each camp day begins with a circle? How do you incorporate practices and rituals and communication that embodies what you want people to see as true about your culture.

So if you think about our process last year at one of [SummerCollab’s sites], one of the biggest issues was that there was a feeling of non-communication. So we heard that, you guys made a lot of adjustments, and established a very intentional and very regular series of ways that you communicated with your staff and then your staff communicated amongst themselves.


Let’s say that an organization has all of these visual markers of their cultural identity and yet the interactions don’t jive with what’s being put out. Maybe there is a facade that you are one big family and that you are a community and that there is a very strong bond between stakeholders, and yet what’s taking place doesn’t represent those values. How do you approach a problem like that?

Early in the conversation, you have to incorporate the capacity to self-reflect and receive feedback. If you can’t be able to hear that you’re off the mark then you aren’t going to be prepared to make adjustments. Sometimes the reason there is a disconnect is because there are competing values and competing components of a culture. You might have an organization that says, “We are high on feeling like a family,” but you’re walking through and hearing a lot of negative talk to the students by the staff and you kind of dig a little deeper, and you find out that it’s because they have had a high-rate of negative peer to peer interactions. So they think that they are addressing it sooner, but the mechanism they are using doesn’t support family. You sometimes have to tease out the difference between the perception of who you are and what you are actually doing.


Self-reflection can be painful; it’s not easy for an individual, let alone an organization, to do.

It’s not easy at all. In fact, my new phrase since last summer has been “emotional constancy.” It is quite a task to say that you are going to embrace it as a practice and to actually put it into practice every day. A lot of times we say we are going to do something, but then I have to challenge myself not only to work with my staff to be emotionally consistent with their students, but that I have to be emotionally consistent with my staff if they don’t meet my expectations.

Imagine that you are building culture from scratch within a new organization. How do you create something that is authentic when it’s aspirational, when it doesn’t really exist yet, without making it seems totally fabricated or forced? There seems to be a delicate balance; you want something to develop naturally but also have to put pressure on it to make it grow.

I agree–you start with the aspirational, whether it’s through visioning exercises or discussion about creating say, if you were creating the best camp in the universe, what would it look like? What would it feel like? How would it move? And then you whittle down from there to determine what’s reasonable to start with  and what are some basic norms that we want to be true about our camp–we want to always listen, we want to value differences–you latch onto a handful of aspirational truisms that you want to be true and then you challenge yourself to keep coming back and saying, “Are we moving towards this? Where are we stumbling and why are we stumbling?” It becomes a feedback loop: this is who I say I am; am I being that? When I’m not being that, what is impeding my progress?


I imagine that one of the key influences is being able to ground your culture in interaction and relationships. If you start with visual culture like artifacts, the culture will feel inauthentic because they do not arise out of relationships and relationships are the bedrock of any culture.

Yes, I agree. You start with the interaction and the interactives because those are the key. In terms of all camps regardless of what their finite focus is, often are dealing with imparting information, whether it’s a skill or an attitude or knowledge to kids. A social interaction model is the best way to get that across and that always comes back to relationships. Grounding yourself in relationship development is going to help everything else. When you pull back from relationships and you look at the outer expression, then you can perceive to make sure the outer expression matches what you see as your inner work.


Kim Graham serves as the Education Director for Christina Cultural Arts Center where she has been employed for nearly 20 years.   While she often wears many hats, Kim M. Graham’s purpose is the same – To utilize the arts to change lives and transform communities.  

Kim holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology with a concentration in Psychodrama, which allows drama to be utilized for therapeutic wholeness   After seven years of counseling experience with individuals and families plagued by drug and alcohol abuse, Ms. Graham joined the CCAC team.  Now she shares her wealth of knowledge on risk behavior prevention, education, and family dynamics with parents and children of all ages. The performing arts are an integral part of the work she does.  She is also a member of the teaching faculty at Christina Cultural Arts Center in the theater department. She has studied the arts at The Wilmington Black Theater Ensemble, Christina Cultural Arts Center and Freedom Theater.

For more information, visit http://www.ccacde.org/


Summer Launch!

For The Summer Learning Collaborative—a Wilmington-based non-profit—summer doesn’t start on June 21st. Summer starts months and months before, as SummerCollab prepares to work with and serve thousands of campers in the city of Wilmington. While many speak of “a lack of productive opportunities” (Johnson, 2016) for students during the summer months, SummerCollab affects real change on the ground, as it provides world class summer programming to the most underserved children in Delaware.

The SummerCollab Model

SummerCollab hires teachers and top high school students to work in community-based agencies in roles that optimize their expertise and provide them with leadership growth in the summertime. SummerCollab has enlisted over 60 teachers and 30 top high school students who are now working in summer programs across the state. Because of SummerCollab, 200 camp counselors across its network were offered elite professional development for the first time through the “Talent RFP” process. The SummerCollab support team placed at each Member Camp start working in late fall, providing planning, training, and system support as camps gear up for the summer launch.

While leadership teams and student enrollment numbers may vary vastly across SummerCollab’s network, all camps are unified in a shared mission to ensure all students have extraordinary summer opportunities in their backyard. In pursuit of this mission, camps all reflect on their progress on a shared data system (Let’s Go Learn), execute targeted reading intervention for campers, and carry out a highly creative, project based curriculum—serving a total of nearly 2000 campers this summer.

SummerCollab has developed an innovative curriculum that enriches the summer experience of nearly 1200 campers (grades K-5) across 10 camps in the city of Wilmington alone. SummerCollab is also working with eight expansion camps across the state of Delaware, in locations like Georgetown, Seaford, and Dagsboro. Its curriculum fosters deep experiential learning and engages the critical thinking and creativity of campers with activities like building roller coasters and making egg drop contraptions. When his idea for a roller coaster worked, one fifth grade camper—Derrick—exclaimed: “I feel so alive right now!”

Not only is the curriculum engaging and interactive, but it is also designed to avoid feeling like a classroom for students. For these low-income campers, SummerCollab curriculum represents the opportunity to catch up to their more privileged counterparts, allowing them to reverse the summer learning loss that accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap. As Kuno Haimbodi—an Operations Specialist on site at Fraim Boys and Girls Club—said, “SummerCollab helps give every student the same opportunities they deserve.”

SummerCollab’s Impact

In 2016, 82% of the campers that the Collab worked with either achieved academic gains gained or did not fall behind during the summer months. Collab’s results are in stark contrast with the statistical average of low-income children losing three months of learning and going back to school far behind where they left off.

Additionally, in partnership with The United Way of Delaware, SummerCollab has pioneered a Reading Intervention program that targets campers who struggle the most with reading. Literacy specialists then work with these campers in small group settings to increase their reading skills. In the highest need communities, students can often be up to three or four years behind grade level, and targeted reading intervention helps build not only literacy skills that can be capitalized upon during the school year but also intrinsic motivators that will help campers sustain their own learning. As Inger—an Instructional Coach at Hilltop—put it, “[The campers] get that one-on-one more intimate educational experience in regard to comprehension, in regard to vocabulary. They get lost in the regular classroom setting, and they don’t want to speak up because they feel embarrassed.”

Middle School Programming—Tyler’s Camps

But SummerCollab’s work is not just concentrated within the K-5 grade segment—or in the city of Wilmington alone. As we move further into the middle of summer, our work with the critical middle-school age group heats up. Tyler’s Camps—which will open on July 10th in Wilmington, July 24th at Sussex Academy, and August 7th in Lewes—will serve 500 middle school students across the state.

Tyler’s Camps provide the state’s highest need youth with a world class summer experience. Last summer, campers were able to choose from exciting options that spanned far—from coding to animation—and wide—from ballet to wrestling. SummerCollab has partnered with organizations like Microsoft, The Boy Scouts, Longwood Gardens, Wilmington Ballet, and others in order to provide campers with committed instructors and extraordinary enrichment opportunities.

In short, SummerCollab is fostering a love of learning and inspiring the hearts and minds of campers across the state of Delaware. In fact, SummerCollab just won an Elite Summer Learning Award from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). Is there work to be done? Absolutely. But in Delaware, thanks to the joint efforts of school and community leaders, teachers and top students, thousands of low-income Delaware kids will have access to extraordinary summer learning opportunities. And the Collab is just getting started. #MakeSummerSmarter.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 4.27.47 PM

“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.”