The “summer slide” is real: During summer break, K–12 students are liable to lose a significant amount of what they learned during the school year — and students from low-income households experience the biggest losses. To help stop the slide, the UChicago Charter School teams with a nonprofit community partner, Horizons National Chicago, to provide free summer learning for Chicago Public Schools students on the South Side.
UChicago alums Rosa Hyun Perkins, AB’94, MBA’00, and Sunil Cutinho, MBA’08, approached the University’s Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP) with the idea in 2017. “The summer learning drain compounds over time,” explains Perkins, who serves with Cutinho on Horizons National Chicago’s board. “If kids are behind three or four months when they return to school, it takes two or three months to catch up, and by fifth grade they could be nearly three years behind,” with little hope of ever regaining lost ground.
Perkins and Cutinho connected NSP with Horizons National, whose six-week summer programs provide reading, STEM, art and other enrichment in small classes - 5:1 student/teacher ratio - led by UChicago Charter School teachers who design the curriculum for their students. Also part of the program: swimming lessons, field trips, and other activities to boost kids’ confidence and social engagement. When student consultants from the UChicago Community Programs Accelerator did a study that benchmarked existing summer programs and surveyed parents on the South Side, the analysis revealed a big programming gap that Horizons was poised to fill.
The UChicago Charter School and Horizons National Chicago welcomed the first class of 60 kindergarteners and first-graders to the school’s Donoghue campus in 2018. In 2019, another 50 students - 30 new kindergarteners and 20 new pre-k students - joined the program at its new home on the North Kenwood/Oakland campus. This was the year the program started serving both neighborhood Chicago Public School students and UChicago Charter School students.
"The program really helps kids grow, because they’re doing hands-on, project-based learning,” says second-grade teacher Marjorie Turcios, “and they apply what they learn” during enrichment activities such as a visit to the Shedd Aquarium after studying marine life. On average, Horizons students gain eight to twelve weeks of grade equivalency in reading and math over the summer; 97 percent of Horizons students graduate from high school, and 91 percent go on to college.
Every day, Brenda Hutchinson says, her daughter Asia came home from Turcios’s class bursting with news about what she learned that day (a favorite moment: seeing whales up close at Shedd). “She never wants to leave,” Hutchinson reports. Because students remain in the program through high school, Asia has many more summers of fun and learning ahead.