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Love of Place: Educating Our Children

The children at McKinley Brighton Middle School are one step closer to takeoff. The anticipation builds as they add the final touchesto model rockets of all shapes, sizes and colors. Once fully assembled, the countdown will begin.

Rocket building is just one example of the many activities Syracuse children are enjoying at the school during the summertime. Each activity is designed to limit summer learning loss, more commonly referred to as the “summer slide.” 

The summer slide is prevalent in many of Syracuse’s city neighborhoods where educational opportunities outside of school are scarce. In single-parent and low-income households, limited time and resources can make it difficult for children to find safe places to continue to learn during the summer months.

The cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer. By the fifth grade, this can leave students up to three years behind their peers. That’s where the importance of summer learning programming comes into play.


“Elementary school students who regularly attend voluntary summer learning programs may maintain or display progress in both math and reading,” said Janel Milana, vice president of the Delaware Primary School in Syracuse. “We’ve witnessed how these programs have led to improvements in reading performance for our students. Summer learning opportunities are crucial for the continued success of our youth."

The Community Foundation provided funding, which was generously matched by the Herbert S. & Eleanore L. Howard Charitable Foundation Fund, to the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County to provide wrap-around supports for students attending the McKinley Brighton Enhanced Summer Learning Program. The school is located in one of Syracuse’s highest poverty neighborhoods. 

The students begin their day with a 30-minute yoga session, followed by a traditional curriculum in the morning and an enrichment activity like journaling or dancing, in partnership with the YMCA.

“Last summer, the program resulted in huge leaps in both enrollment and attendance,” said Phil Memmer, executive director of the YMCA Arts Branch. “That means that our students not only enjoyed themselves, but benefited both socially and academically as well.”

The future is bright, Milana says, when you have children that are constantly curious and yearning to learn. 

“I’m always impressed with our students’ willingness to learn new things,” said Milana. “We are giving them the opportunity to explore their sense of wonder.”