When the students walked into the classroom, their eyes were wide as they surveyed the room full of books. The room was decorated for a party – colorful balloons were floating in the air and calming jazz music set the stage. The students were told to select whichever book they wanted – to keep! The young readers picked their books, sat on the reading carpet, and shared with their friends what they had all selected. Each student walked away with 5-6 books to start their own home library.
This experience was one of the highlights for the Campbell Union School District’s (CUSD) Achieve Summer Learning program which was made possible through the SJ Learns grant and strategic partnerships set up through the district. Since 2018, CUSD has been a recipient of the SJ Learns Grant administered by San José Public Library Foundation, a vision that was established by Mayor Sam Liccardo in 2015 to help close the achievement gap in San José schools. Since the program’s inception, over $4 million has been given to schools to fund after school and summer programs that address the literacy divide. In the last 30 years, the Achievement Gap – defined as the growing disparity in academic performance between different groups of students such as between low-income and higher income students – has grown. In CUSD, communities face the realities of the divide, with 45% of students not meeting English Literacy Arts standards and 51% of students falling behind in math.
Closing the Achievement Gap
Some of the main barriers to achievement for students living in poverty include access to enrichment opportunities outside of school, such as music or art lessons, tutoring opportunities, and summer camps. Additionally, children living in poverty hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their middle income peers before reaching kindergarten, impeding vocabulary acquisition and literacy development. Growing research provides evidence that summer and after school programs play an instrumental role in improving literacy outcomes for children.
This gap is present at the CUSD schools currently operating SJ Learns funded programs: Blackford, Lynhaven, Rosemary, and Sherman Oaks – schools with a combined average of 68.7% of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRMP). Lizeth Gonzalez, Director of Expanded Learning in the Campbell Union School District explained, “The top barriers facing our students are a lack of access to high quality literacy materials and opportunities during out of school time; poverty; coming from traumatic home situations; and lack of mastery of the English language. The challenge continues during the summer months where our most vulnerable students experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge over the summer break.”
Learning Beyond the School Day
The SJ Learns Initiative is intended to provide school districts with resources that leverage their own out of school time budget as well as that of any provider(s) it selects to ensure learning outcomes and increase the number of at-risk children who attend high-quality out of school programs. As the City’s lead department working on community education initiatives and a recognized learning space outside the traditional classroom, the San José Public Library provides leadership to the SJ Learns process.
“With the support of the San José Public Library Foundation’s SJ Learns Grant, we have been able to operate the Achieve Summer Learning Program with the goal to fill the literacy resource gap,” said Ms. Gonzalez. “One of the questions we asked ourselves was, ‘how are we going to motivate youth and families to keep reading during the summer?’ and ‘What are the barriers that exists and how can we eliminate them?’” To that end, CUSD built a strong partnership with the San José Public Library, the Campbell Library, and the California Department of Education, Expanded Learning Division. CUSD jointly hosted a family night at the Bascom Branch Library to provide resources and education to families about the importance of reading, while removing barriers to summer learning and visioning the library as a classroom outside of school. Leveraging these partnerships, CUSD was awarded additional funding through the California Department of Education, Expanded Learning Division to implement the Reading Incentive grant that allowed the district to purchase over 750 new books to encourage summer reading. The library night and book distribution events were part of the District’s strategy to promote reading and engage families over the summer.
Summer is Essential for Reading Growth
The work is only beginning during the summer. With the District’s commitment to learning that extends outside the school day and helping to close the achievement gap, SJ Learns has been able to support a vision for quality in Out of School Time programming. “We are thankful and lucky that the SJ Learns grant does not end in the summer and that we are able to continue to support our students year-round. With the help of the SJ Learns grant and our community partners, our after school programs at Lynhaven, Blackford, Sherman Oaks, and Rosemary Elementary Schools were able to hire credentialed teachers as academic liaisons in an effort to provide cohesion between the after school program and the school day.” Campbell Union School District and the San José Public Library look forward to continued success in expanded learning programs helping San José students who need it most.