Marvell-Elaine Reads helps us understand how to:
+ Provide summer learning opportunities that enable students to make academic gains during the summer months
+ Deliver out-of-school instruction that prepares students for more rigorous standards
+ Build a school-community partnership that provides effective programming tailored to the community
The high expectations set by Common Core were daunting for many schools, particularly those with a track record of underperformance. How could teachers and schools overcome past disappointments to accomplish a seemingly uphill journey?
Education leaders in the Arkansas Delta town of Marvell boldly accepted the serious challenge before them, and they reaped the rewards. They provided high-quality instruction during the summer months aligned to rigorous standards, enabling children to make gains during a time when they may have otherwise lost ground.
Marvell children received summer instruction through Marvell-Elaine Reads, a school-community partnership between Marvell-Elaine Elementary and the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC). Each entity joined the partnership with an established program—the elementary school offered a summer program, and BGACDC partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and its national network of Freedom Schools. At first, the two programs operated independently of each other, but in 2012 they decided to combine the summer school and Freedom School into a full-day summer camp that occurred five days per week, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
By that point, many Marvell-Elaine students were not reading at grade level, a fact confirmed by the school’s “Needs Improvement Priority” designation assigned by the Arkansas Department of Education. The partnership’s leaders hoped that through a collaboration built on a Common Core-aligned curriculum and the proven success of the Freedom School model, students could make leaps forward during the summer instead of falling behind.
For over 200 students who enrolled in the camp in 2014, the plan worked. According to the pretest and posttest scores that year, the numbers of advanced and proficient students in literacy and math increased by 43 percent and 36 percent, respectively.
Summer Learning Opportunities
Marvell-Elaine recognized the extent to which summer learning loss impeded student progress, especially in a poor community where there were fewer educational opportunities available. According to the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign, in 2014 low-income students fell behind two to three months each summer, which by fifth grade put them 2.5 to 3 grade levels behind their peers. As Marvell-Elaine Reads showed, summer learning programs could have a significant impact on what students learned; unfortunately, these programs only enrolled 17 percent of Arkansas students.
Thanks to its popularity and impact, Marvell-Elaine Reads ensured a higher level of student enrollment in academic enrichment programs. By merging the summer school with the Freedom School, the partnership made learning continuous throughout the year. “There’s literally no gap in the learning process because, save for holiday breaks, they’re in school from August to July,” said Marvell-Elaine Elementary Principal Sylvia Moore. And through regular assessment, the school did more than confirm that students were making progress, it also identified students who needed individualized attention in the coming year. “Whatever the weaknesses are, that’s what we focus our instruction on,” said Moore.
preparing for the rigor of common core
Simply providing an opportunity to learn in the summer did not suffice; programs needed to provide high-quality instruction and complement the learning that happened during the school year. Marvell-Elaine Reads was supported by the vetted, evidence-based framework that the CDF Freedom School provided. Using a strong curriculum, trained instructors reinforced math and reading skills in alignment with Common Core. Each Freedom School activity folded into its Integrated Reading Curriculum, organized by academic track and with lesson plans, readings, and sets of Common Core standards that helped structure daily instruction.
a partnership tailored to the community
Marvell-Elaine Reads provided students fun and engaging learning opportunities all summer long. The model worked for Marvell because the Freedom School provided culturally relevant materials and activities within a community of color. For example, students and teachers kicked off each day with the Harambee, a Kenyan ritual that means “let’s pull together” in Swahili, by participating in group chants, cheers, and read-aloud sessions, often featuring classics in African-American literature.
In 2013 Marvell residents were notified that the Arkansas Department of Education raised Marvell-Elaine Elementary School’s status, moving it from “Needs Improvement Priority” to “Achieving.” It also received an "A" grade for its performance during the 2013-14 school year. True to Harambee custom, Marvell leaders “pulled together” for the sake of the community’s children, and they did it by dedicating the summer as a time for high-quality, rigorous instruction.
 Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign, “Interim Study on Grade-Level Reading,” October 2014, available at http://www.ar-glr.net/media/1287/interimglr_summary_resource.pdf