The last few days of the school year means I have to use all my mom super powers to get my kids to just go to school. They’re ages 11, 14 and 17 and seem to have early cases of senioritis. For them, summer is an endless stretch of sleeping in, camps filled with friends and canoeing, plus at least one vacation where they’ll ride frightening roller coasters and swim until they’re human prunes. That wasn’t what all my summers looked like growing up.

I was alone many days of the summer. Our apartment only had one window unit AC and I’d park myself in front of it. My mom worked and after fourth grade I was on my own in the steamy St. Louis months of June, July and August. As an only child I spent a lot of time watching TV, re-reading Baby-Sitter Club Books, and counting down the days until school started. My kids wouldn’t recognize my life when I was their ages.

That personal experience of loneliness and boredom over the summer, combined with the hard evidence that children can lose up to three months of reading and math skills over the summer, are why Kids on Course has so much to offer over the long break. If low income children had access to high quality learning over the summer, two-thirds of the nation’s achievement gap would disappear.

Kids on Course University is a seven-week summer camp designed specifically for kindergarten through fourth graders in the Cedar Rapids Community School District who need a boost in reading. Last summer we had more than 750 students attend! This free experience combines high quality instruction from certified teachers with fun, food and field trips. And the results show that students who attended Kids on Course University had seven times the reading growth over the summer as those who were invited, but didn’t attend.

Scholar Camp is our summer program for middle school students who attend Roosevelt and Wilson. When we first started Scholar Camp we weren’t sure any kids would show up. Let’s be real, middle schoolers aren’t known for enjoying getting up early and heading to school… especially when they don’t have to. So we were stunned when we saw our attendance numbers. Last summer, more than 160 sixth, seventh and eighth graders spent five weeks learning how to analyze news articles, create projects, practice math skills and read hundreds of novels. Middle school kids apparently love being with their friends, learning while having fun, and getting a free meal in the process.

For the first time in Kids on Course history we’ll have students entering high school in our program. These 14 year olds started with us when they were seven. We’ve been there for homeruns and fraction frustrations, first crushes and first finals. This summer we wanted an experience that would last with them forever, while also preparing them for the rigors and rules of high school. We decided to craft a three-pronged summer experience: volunteering, traveling, and back-to-school-boot-camp. Volunteering means each Kids on Course rising ninth grader will spend one week alongside elementary school students at Kids on Course University. They’ll be mentoring and helping kids who need the same support they needed as youngsters. The travel part will be a learning experience combined with an exciting opportunity to experience a new city: Chicago! This three-day whirlwind excursion is filled with studies in the arts, history and architecture of the third biggest city in the United States. This trip is something students had to earn with good school attendance and commitment to Kids on Course. Finally, they’ll be ending their summer by going back to school before any other high school students. They’ll learn study skills and explore the extra-curricular opportunities available as freshmen. And we’ve partnered with the Iowa College Access Network to help students assess their own career interests and goals so they can start working now for a future of their design. At the end of this boot camp every Kids on Course ninth grader will have a resume they’ll build on throughout high school, knowledge about what GPA they’ll need to reach their career goals, and connections to the opportunities in sports, arts and clubs to keep them positively engaged throughout high school.

Summer in Kids on Course is one of the busiest times of the year. It’s also when we host our huge fundraiser and community event: The Zach Johnson Foundation Classic. Everyone is invited to join us on Monday, July 9th at Elmcrest Country Club as we cheer on Zach and his fellow PGA TOUR professionals and celebrities. This free one-day event is filled with golf, entertainment and lots of love as it raises money to keep Kids on Course’s tutoring, mentoring, enrichment and summer programming 100% free for our families!

– By Beth Malicki, Kids on Course Program Leader