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How to help your students fight summer learning loss through free programs

Indy Summer Learning Labs is back for its third year. It's a five-week academic and enrichment program, with more than 40 locations across Marion County.

INDIANAPOLIS — Summer vacation is well underway for students across central Indiana, and educators are reminding families that summer learning loss is a real challenge.

Now, Indianapolis groups are coming together to help students across Marion County.

Indy Summer Learning Labs is back for its third year. It's a five-week academic and enrichment program, with more than 40 locations across Marion County.

Most of the locations are free for students, including English and math education, field trips, meals, and in some cases, transportation.

Indy Summer Learnings Labs is a partnership between The Mind Trust and United Way of Central Indiana. It launched in 2021 as a way to directly fight learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Summer learning loss has always been a thing for students, but it was even bigger after COVID-19," said Kateri Whitley, with The Mind Trust, "We know as many students as possible deserved access to high-quality, fun, free or low-cost summer programming, which is why we launched this program.”

During its first year, Indy Summer Learning Labs welcomed about 3,000 students. By 2022, the program grew to about 5,000 students. This year, Whitley said the program has room for more than 5,000 across its 40 Indianapolis locations.

Students are tested at the beginning and end of the summer sessions in both reading and math.

Whitley said, every year, students' scores go up at the end of the summer. She credited the licensed teachers, who can receive up to $10,000 for helping and engaging curriculum.

“We are still focusing on these younger grades because we know those building blocks will affect them for the rest of their lives," Whitley said.

Additionally, Whitley said Indy Summer Learning Labs prioritizes prep for the next school year, rather than just focusing on remediation.

“When you’re in the job of youth work, you might notice small changes, but you wouldn’t believe the outcome and the things that can happen with just six weeks," said George Gardner, the director of the Lilly Boys and Girls Club in Fountain Square, which serves as one of Indy Summer Learning Lab's locations this summer. "It’s why we do what we do."


At the Boys and Girls Club, Gardner said it's all about engaging education.

“We try to give kids opportunities outside of what they might experience in their normal lives or at school," Gardner said.

Whitley agreed.

“Kids need to have fun during the summer break, in addition to continuing learning," Whitley said. "The sites do field trips. They do trips to the pool. They do athletics, sports, and fun programming because they know that is an important piece of childhood and of summer, and we make that a priority for our programming.”

“So much can be lost or gained when you have the freedom to do whatever you want," Gardner said. "I think what the club offers is a chance for kids to build positive relationships with staff, as well as just getting something new out of their day to day.”

So far, Whitley said more than 5,000 students have already signed up, with the summer session set to begin Monday, June 12.

Students going into first through ninth grades are eligible to sign up.

"The curriculum is outstanding," Gardner said. "The teachers know it. The kids can easily buy in, and that just helps them get the retention that we’re trying to build up to boost those test scores.”

Some teachers at Indianapolis Public Schools are also keeping busy this summer, since the district brought back its free summer tutoring program.

"I personally have a lot of students in my class who want to learn," said, Deloren Major, an intensive intervention teacher at Brookside School, who typically works with fifth- and sixth-graders, but this summer, he's working with students heading into eighth grade.

Major said he personally knows how important summer school can be. He was enrolled as a young student.

"I needed remediation," Major said. "I needed intervention."

Then, as Major improved academically, he reenrolled a few years later — this time, however, to get ahead for the upcoming school year.

"That's the most important part is to learn," Major said. "Keep those wheels spinning. Keep that comprehension going."

Major said a conversation with an IPS student actually convinced him to sign up to teach during the summer. The student told Major he didn't have any summer plans and was considering summer school.

"Yeah, that's a great idea," Major said.

Then, Major said he and the student made a deal.

"If you go to summer school, I'll show up and teach it," Major said.

Now, summer school is underway, with more than 20 students in Major's class.

"I think summer school is a very, very great opportunity for all students," Major said. "If not to rebuild skills, to get ready for the next year's skillset."

Major also highlighted the importance of keeping students' minds active during the summer. 

"Even if they are not in summer school, they should be reading something," Major said.

The Indianapolis Public Library has "reading something" covered through its Summer Reading Program.

Students can track their reading hours at home and turn in a tracking sheet for free prizes throughout the summer.

You can print out your tracking sheet here.

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