Summer Learnin' (Had Me a Blast)

Case Study on the Horizon Education Centers' Innovative Summer Learning Program

(Horizon Education Centers)
(Horizon Education Centers)

There is a reason that traditional summer school is viewed as a punishment. Early mornings and time spent in desks, these programs are focused on remediating deficits instead of building mastery.

High-quality summer learning programs goes well beyond summer school or summer camp. These programs both engage youth and make connections around a focused set of outcomes. You can walk into a high-quality summer program and see connections through youth-produced work generated within a focused learning environment; you can hear connections across activities, field trips and projects; and you can feel connections in the rituals and traditions used to unite and bond staff and youth. They can take place anywhere and focus on a variety of topics, but they are defined by a commitment to relevancy and to broader, forward-thinking applications of skills and knowledge.

The Horizon Education Centers, which consists of nine school- and community-based sites serving 750 school-aged youth in the greater Cleveland, OH area, is an example of the benefits of fully embracing the global learning concept in summer. The program serves a diverse population of students, 70% of which are low-income, from a former steel town that has seen both drastically decreasing economic opportunity as well as dramatically increasing immigration over the past 30 years.

The program started with a global theme through its summer program, and then expanded the theme to its afterschool programs in the fall for children from preschool through eighth grade. This past summer, each youth group chose a country and learned about its culture, language, and history. The focus was on how we’re all the same around the world, but yet within those commonalities, we are all very different. For example, we all have homes, language, and food, but there is enormous variety within each of these.

At Horizon Education Centers Summer Camp, their standard configuration was to offer lessons linked to a field trip each week. This summer, each week focused on an aspect of culture and globalization. The students studied cooperation by examining different games from around the world and differences in how they are played. Agriculture was explored through a cooking club that looked at ingredients and where they come from, and how agricultural products are exported and imported from/to Ohio.

A lesson on transportation and world commerce provided the opportunity to rethink the traditional field trip to the Steamship Mather, a Great Lakes steamship that once shuttled between Cleveland’s steel mills and the iron ranges in Minnesota. This year, the field trip was reconceived as an opportunity to talk about water displacement in the context of deep-water ports and what it takes to move trade, both on the Great Lakes as well as across the world’s oceans. Students learned about today’s global intricate supply system and how these shipping routes enable Ohioans to provide exports, like corn, to the world, as well as receive products from the world.

Horizon Education Centers found they were able to make the case for how global learning could strengthen their program across all three priority areas of their funder, the state Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers: academic achievement, youth development, and parent engagement. As Executive Director David Smith states, “We didn’t leave behind what we’ve always done. Global learning is a framework that tied everything together.”

Ready to transform your summer program? See Asia Society's toolkit and the features in our afterschool web section to help you get started.