Fighting “Summer Learning Loss”: One City’s Story

One hears a lot these days about "summer learning loss" and its toll on low-income students. This summer WKCD asked Jordan Denari, whom we met three years ago when she was a junior in high school and editor at the Indianapolis youth-led Y-Press, to document her experience leading "City Stories"—a remarkable two-week summer camp in which Y-Press teenagers teach younger students 21st century journalism skills. Denari, now a sophomore at Georgetown University, recorded every aspect of the camp's unfolding, producing a powerful feature story, "A Camp that Gets the Story: To Stop 'Summer Slide,' Teen Journalists Teach Kids Their Trade," and two audio slideshows from interviews with Y-Press counselors: "On the importance of summer learning" and "On what we learned as teachers." We share all three here.

by Jordan Denari, 19

INDIANAPOLIS, IN— I would sift through thick plastic bags filled with cassette tapes and read-along books at the library. I would work out chess strategies or map out football plays on my hand. I would visit historic American cities and learn about national sites like Alcatraz, the Vietnam Memorial, and Paul Revere’s house. These are the memories I have from my childhood summers.

During the months of June and July, my education didn’t let up, because my mom took my brother and me to the library, my dad played challenging games with us, and my family traveled from our home in Indianapolis to places like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

But many kids in my city aren’t as lucky. Kids from low-income communities often miss out on opportunities for summer learning and critical thinking because their families lack the money, time, or resources to provide such experiences. Once the school year rolls around, this disparity in summer learning between upper- and lower-income kids makes a big difference.

According to a 20-year study done at Johns Hopkins University, and cited in a Time magazine cover story about summer learning loss, “low-income elementary school students lost ground in reading each summer, compared with their higher-income peers, who made progress.” Even more disheartening, the study shows that “by the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind, and summer was the biggest culprit.” The challenge, the Johns Hopkins researchers conclude, is to make the summer a time of learning for low-income students “without destroying what’s best about the season: the possibility of fun and freedom and play.”

Indianapolis is one of few cities across the country that has been tackling this challenge, and, in the eyes of many, succeeding. Beginning in the 1990s, a group of national and local philanthropic organizations under the umbrella of the Summer Youth Program Fund combined their resources to support almost 200 camps, community centers, and youth summer-job programs that promote learning every year.

One such Indianapolis summer program is City Stories, a two-week storytelling camp co-created by Y-Press, a youth-media organization, and Second Story, a creative writing project. The goal of this camp, which I led along with another senior counselor, was to enable nine- and ten-year-olds to tell the stories of their community through journalism and poetry. After producing an audio-slideshow and a poem about a business or institution that benefits their community, the kids left camp armed with the fundamentals of poetry-writing and twenty-first-century journalism....

READ MORE: "A Camp that Gets the Story"



Y-Press Counselors Talk About the Importance of Summer Learning (3:20 min.)

Y-Press Counselors Reflect on What They Learned as Teachers (2:48 min.)


Audio slideshows by City Stories campers (from an interview with the manager of the 120-year-old Joseph’s Jewelry and Loan Pawn Shop to stories from the owners of Ruble Flowers and Barry’s Pizza)


Kids on the Wire

Shout Outs



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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator