From the May 2018 issue

Summer Spark Program Keeps Summer Slide at Bay in Detroit

United Way for Southeastern Michigan's Summer Spark program helps local families find the perfect summer camp or program to prevent the summer slide.

In just a few short weeks, school will let out for summer break, leaving many parents scrambling for options to help fill their children’s days.

But not to fret mom and dad, a new tool may be the key to finding wallet-friendly care to keep your child engaged all summer long.

United Way, which works to improve the lives of children and families throughout Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, partnered with the Youth Development Resource Center in Detroit to create Summer Spark, a new digital tool to help busy parents find the right summer program to fit their kid’s needs.

With Summer Spark, parents can search for programs based on specific criteria, like their children’s age, interest and schedule, making it a one-stop-shop.

And summertime learning is critical to prevent the summer slide — the learning loss that happens over break. Children living in low-income homes are at even greater risk and can lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer while their middle-income peers tend to make gains in reading. These gaps continue to grow, and by the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged children are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.

“I have great empathy for parents, regardless of income, because figuring out what to do with your kids for six to eight weeks during the summer months is a challenge,” says Tammie Jones, the vice president of Education and Economic Prosperity at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “It’s one thing to find a safe place for kids to go, but it’s another to find those high-quality opportunities to help your kids grow.”

Aiding the search

With safety and quality in mind, Summer Spark compiled a variety of camps and programing – from sports and arts to more specialized options – in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties in one free and easy-to-use database.

In the database, parents can search for programming based on location, grade, focus and cost. Once they find a match, they can look closer at each program’s schedule to learn if it offers meals, transportation and if there is a fee. They can also directly contact program providers from Summer Spark via phone or email to find out additional information.

Beyond programming

But it doesn’t stop there. United Way also paired with ABCmouse to offer the award-winning educational software for Detroit providers and libraries to help kids keep up their reading skills in the summer months. That’s in addition to information and community resources like Meet Up and Eat Up, https://unitedwaysem.org/2-1-1/meet-up-and-eat-up/ which offers free breakfast and lunches for all kids 18 and younger at its sites across the region and can be accessed through Summer Spark.

“A lot of families are dependent on free school breakfast and lunch, which disappear in the summer,” Jones explains. “Our Summer Spark page directs parents to learn more about Meet Up and Eat Up, which offers health, tasty meals throughout the tri-county region.”

And kids don’t even have to be enrolled in a summer program to use these extras.

“Not only are we making parents’ lives easier, (but) we’re helping children,” Jones adds. “(And) it’s important that we feed both the bodies and the minds of children.”

For more information on United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s free Summer Spark program, visit unitedwaysem.org/summerspark.

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