When Alief Middle School (AMS) rising eighth grader Merari Ventura learned of the school’s summer program in late June, she chose not to waste another minute of her summer.
“I didn’t know we had this summer camp until my friend brought it up. I was like, ‘Can I still join?’” she said. “She gave me the form, and I signed up.”
For Ventura, who spent the past year in the afterschool program, the decision to spend the summer with her friends was easy.
“It’s really fun and interesting, and we get to do a lot of stuff,” she said. “We go on field trips, cook, and play games, and that’s way better than just being at home doing nothing all summer.”
AMS is one of 10 campuses in Harris County with a Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Cycle 11 grant-funded summer program hosted by HCDE’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment (CASE for Kids). For the first time in CASE for Kids’ history, the five-year grant allows the division to hire its own program site coordinators who work closely with campus administration to ensure their afterschool and summer programs are fully operational.
Summer programming is particularly beneficial as it prevents the learning loss between academic school years known as the “summer slide.”
“On average, children lose about a month’s worth of instruction in the summertime, but summer slide affects the children of high- and low-income families disproportionately,” said CASE for Kids Director Lisa Caruthers, Ph.D. “Our job is to ignite a passion in kids while engaging them in purposeful learning through fun and exciting activities using their academic skill sets. Summer also allows kids to explore interests they may not get to pursue during a regular school day.”
At AMS, students explore new activities daily. CASE for Kids approved vendors, such as After School to Achieve, bring students lessons in cooking, yoga, art and design, and gardening. Students also get a break from the classroom with outdoor activities like field days, sports, critical-thinking and team-building games, and field trips to local science and history museums. For some students, visiting places like the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a first.
“The field trips are the top, number one thing, obviously,” rising seventh grader Keywine Dowdell said matter-of-factly.
In addition to fun, fellowship, and games, the summer program also offers personal finance, budgeting, and college and career planning lessons. CASE for Kids Site Coordinator Paige Breaux says the students were initially less interested in these topics but are beginning to understand the practical applications.
“For some of them, this is their first time learning how to budget and knowing what that means,” said Breaux. “The kids learned how to budget based on the career path they’re interested in. They got to research the average salaries for those careers and calculate hypothetical monthly expenses to determine what they would be able to afford in a month.”
Through conversations about budgeting, students also discuss responsible money management.
“In that one activity, I was a daycare worker. At the end of the year, I had like $1,478 left. If I do have that in real life, I’m going to save it up,” said rising seventh grader Dereon Dorty.
Through the various activities, students are building valuable skills and knowledge that will benefit them in life and the upcoming school year. However, arguably, the most significant benefits are the valuable relationships with peers and teachers.
Though each student’s favorite part of the program differed, they all agreed on one thing: “Ms. Breaux is the best.”
“If I had her for my homeroom teacher, I would go to school every single day—no sick days,” said student Vianna Valencia.
To learn more about CASE for Kids and supplemental funding for summer and afterschool programs, visit www.hcde-texas.org/afterschoolzone.