‘A new kind of summer school’ returns July 15-August 9

For four weeks this summer, Oak Park elementary and middle-school students will once again be enjoying a new and exciting type of summer school opportunity created to enhance their study and reading skills while preparing them for the academic year ahead. In its second year at the Main Library, the program connects learning to inquiry, experimentation, and hands-on projects that focus on collaboration and relationship building while supporting basic skill development in literacy and math. Much of the work will explore themes of social justice and empowering all voices. Read more about the 2019 Power of Partnerships summer school program »

The following article was originally published in the The Storyline’s winter 2018-19 edition as “Empowering all voices means making some noise”

Reimagining what summer school can be

Visitors to the Main Library over four weeks this summer may have noticed it was a little noisier than usual on the second and third floors. From July 16 to August 10, 2018, the Main Library hosted a lively weekday summer school designed to reimagine learning and achievement for elementary and middle school students, including some who had been struggling in the previous school year and had lower Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores.

When your goal is to empower all voices, you’re bound to make some noise.

“We’re trying to show all kids there is no limit to what you can achieve,” said Frances Kraft, co-founder of the Equity Team (E-Team), which collaborated with the library, Dominican University, and Oak Park Elementary School District 97 on the free Power of Partnerships summer school program.

“Libraries are some of the most trusted spaces in our community,” said Executive Director David J. Seleb. “If we can look beyond some of the traditional roles we have ascribed for ourselves or allowed others to ascribe to us, we have an incredible opportunity.”

Empowering all voices

In the Silent Reading Room and other library spaces, 55 students going into grades 2–8 worked in small groups and one-on-one with instructors in math, reading, and writing.

They did yoga, built architectural models, programmed robots, sang, danced, and performed spoken word.

The library is a neutral community space, and “a welcoming place where families can go not just to get a book, but to get support for their families,” Kraft added. “That’s why it made perfect sense to ground this work at the library.”

Community support

To make the program’s inquiry-based learning possible, “we had amazing people from the community come in,” Kraft said.

They included Dominican University reading specialists, a Spoken Word teacher from Oak Park and River Forest High School, and staff from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Keys2Broadway Educational Theater Company, and the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry.

Some teen counselors themselves had been tutored and mentored at the library the previous school year in the IMLS–Triton College Activating Community Opportunities program.

An incubator for new approaches

For each child who participated, the E-Team tracked their progress and reported results back to District 97, with the goal of helping families and school staff work together as partners in the future.

Kraft said the Power of Partnerships program was meant to be an incubator for new approaches.

“For decades, Oak Park has been having conversations about the achievement gap, or the opportunity gap. That is the measurable gap between white and black students, between low-income and non-low-income students, in meeting or exceeding academic measures,” she said. “But Oak Park has every resource possible and the issue is not with our students or families. To really address this issue, systems have to change. People see this kind of summer school and say, maybe the system can change.”

Building relationships

The E-Team is a local nonprofit committed to helping every student feel prepared academically and socially to have a successful school experience. Find them on Facebook »