Boys and Girls Club Chicago Works to Close Educational Gap

Summertime. The time where students, parents and educators take a few weeks to relax and regroup from the school year. It’s also the time where family gatherings and vacations are at an all-time high. While the summer is the season many look forward to, it’s also the time where the learning gap for many kids can increase. According to the American Education Research Journal, children can lose up to 40% of their total school year gains during the summer months. These stats add to the growing concern of parents who are already concerned about loss in learning from home schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During summer months most youth lose about two months’ worth of math skills. Low-income youth also lose more than two months’ worth of reading skills, while their middle-class peers often make slight gains. In an effort to close this learning gap and keep students on track Dr. Vicki Lee, Chief Program Officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, and her staff have created a program to prevent summer learning loss to ensure students are on track for the school year. In a brief interview with Dr. Lee, I had the pleasure to learn about the Summer Brain Gain offered to participants at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago.

EL: When is Summer Learning Week?

DL: National Summer Learning Week is at the end of July, but at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) learning week is every week. Summer Brain Gain is one of the many academic programs offered to help students prepare for the upcoming school year.

EL: Who created the idea of Summer Brain Gain and its curriculum?

DL: Summer Brain Gain modules had many contributors. The curriculum is based on the creative thinking from BGCC young professionals and staff that work with the program.

EL: Can you tell the readers more about the Summer Brain Gain curriculum/program?

DL: Summer Brain Gain has 37 modules and runs for six weeks during the summer. The program includes Social Emotional Learning and core academic curriculum focusing on math, literacy and STEM. Each learning module is 45 minutes, and the staff has the autonomy to select what modules are best for student learning. There are activities for youth in each grade level ranging from elementary to high school, and each module is designed with themes that are student-centered by age and interest. Participants have mentors who are strategically matched to students according to academic needs. The same staff members are retained for the summer and academic school year. Each mentor works with students daily to maintain relationships and track learning for growth. The program is adaptable for all settings to meet individual learning needs.

EL: What is the primary goal of Summer Brain Gain?

DL: One of the hopes/goals of the Summer Brain Gain is to ensure students are on track when they return to school so that they successfully remain on target for moving forward to the next grade level.

EL: How do you track your data for gains to see what modules work best for students? 

DL: We collect qualitative and quantitative data by holding focus groups with participants to recap learning gains and activity interests. Students are also given a reflection survey to discuss their experience with the program (at the beginning and end of the summer). Modules also have a built-in evaluation component. Kids aren’t actually graded on their work, but their learning progress is monitored and evaluated for student growth using these tools. The administrative staff provides support to mentors to assist with learning progress and to ensure students move forward. It’s fun learning and kids have an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in real-time.

EL: What does a typical day look like for participants?

DL: Summer camp at BGCC is eight weeks for eight hours a day. On a typical day, kids come in, participate in a morning routine, and they’re given breakfast. After this, participants have an opportunity to swim, have gym time, engage in various sports activities, or other organized activities. The Summer Brain Gain modules are 45 minutes each and focus on core academic areas each day with breaks in-between. Youth generally begin their day with literacy and break for activities in between learning. Technology breaks are also incorporated throughout the day, which allows participants to use their phones to check or update their social media pages for a period of time.

EL: Are you planning to work with schools throughout the school year to help struggling students? 

DL: Planning for “after-school time” is a stressful task for parents, however, we offer a program called Power Hour, which supports students’ academic success and helps ensure students complete homework assignments. During this time, students bring in homework assignments and their assigned mentor stays with them until assignments are complete. If students come in with no homework, staff is prepared with age and grade appropriate assignments for those students to ensure a consistent and engaging tutoring program to support self-directed learning.

The Boys & Girls Club of Chicago serves about 1,600-2,000 youth daily. Through its programming, the organization has seen tremendous academic growth instead of losses during the summer months. Dr. Vicki Lee and her staff are working diligently to close the educational gap for youth across the Chicagoland area. For more information on the clubs and the programs they offer visit the website at


Liz Lampkin is a lifestyle, love and relationships writer. Follow her on social media @Liz_Lampkin.


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