By Carlton Koonce
Teen Mentoring Coordinator
The Durham VOICE
If you are a regular reader of the VOICE, you might wonder why you don’t see our publication during summer months.
As a community paper but also an educational tool, we print from September to May when our students are grinding pavement.
But just because the VOICE isn’t on newsstands in the summer, it doesn’t mean that we’ve entirely fallen off the map.
Our publishers, journalism professors from N.C. Central University and UNC Chapel Hill, often spend the summers rounding up funding from community partners for future production or presenting research found during the year in various academic conferences.
When not traveling the state or country, we’re touching base with community grassroots organizations that are behind us whether YO:Durham, SpiritHouse or even East Durham Children’s Initiative, known as EDCI.
Modeled after the highly regarded Harlem’s Children Zone initiative in New York City, EDCI is a community organization working to ensure a brighter future for children in East Durham.
Their goal is to ensure that all children living in the 120-block zone of East Durham successfully graduate high school and enter college or the workforce prepared.
They identify barriers that might hinder a child’s success in school and partner with other local organizations, such as the Durham Public Schools, to break these obstacles.
Services EDCI provide include literacy programs, childhood intervention, parental and family support and summer programs.
EDCI’s 7-week summer camp was held at YE Smith Elementary School, the targeted elementary school in the program’s zone.
As a publication for community and education, both subjects supported by EDCI, the VOICE thought it a no-brainer to pay this camp a visit.
Walking with David Reese, EDCI’s executive director, Jill Ullman, the organization’s new development director, and Bryan Huffman, the YMCA Durham Branch executive director, I couldn’t help having flashbacks to my own experiences with camps.
EDCI’s camp takes into account physical activity like “traditional” camps but also aims to make sure kids exercise their brains.
Most experts agree that children experience something referred to as the “summer slide” during vacation. This slide is associated with a loss in academic skills during the summer, especially in children from low-income backgrounds.
In turn this contributes to the academic achievement gap between kids with less and those from families with a little more.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, an independent organization providing guidance and resources to summer learning communities, all children experience some learning loss during the summer when not engaged in educational activities.
NLSA cites research that found most students lose almost two months worth of math skills over the summer and low-income students lose more than two months reading achievement skills. As a result, more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids is due to decreased access to summer learning opportunities.
For these reasons what EDCI does, year-round but especially in the summer, benefits inner-city Durham.
The YE Smith Summer Camp takes kids and immerses them in tutoring during the sleepy days of June and July. Reading tutors recruited from the local universities are trained in a reading curriculum used by the Hill Center and tutor students in a 1:3 tutor to student ratio to continue building and maintaining reading skills.
EDCI has found that from the 2011 summer camp, 66 percent of students who attended and returned to YE Smith the following school year showed no learning loss.
While the kids’ mornings are full of academics, their afternoons involve physical activity.
The NLSA found that children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Many children, primarily those at a higher risk of obesity, also rapidly gain weight during the break.
On the day I returned to the school to snap pictures, kids were learning about the Olympics and Olympic sports in the gym. They practiced long jump, ran a few foot races and talked about track and field.
This year, EDCI celebrates its 4th anniversary and in July officially became its own non-profit agency. The organization has completed its move from downtown to the third floor of Shepherd’s House Church on Driver St. And now that it has finished its first full year of implementation, EDCI plans on continuing to uplift community children and families.
It’s clear that to succeed in this modern world, Durham kids today have to stay a step ahead – even during summer vacation.
It looks to me like they’re getting there.
Onward and upward.