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Citywide Summer Learning Initiatives Launched in Several Urban Areas

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Dallas City of Learning from Big Thought on Vimeo.

Dallas and several other cities—Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Pittsburgh; and Washington—are launching citywide summer learning initiatives aimed at keeping students engaged throughout the summer and closing the opportunity gap that exists for disadvantaged youths in learning outside the classroom. The five cities will join Chicago, which began a similar summer of learning initiative last year, which it is expanding to be year-round.

The efforts are founded on the idea that, through collaboration between organizations, programs, and city governments, students' learning opportunities will take a connected learning approach, bringing together in-school academics with out-of-school interests. It also aims to provide more students with enrichment opportunities outside of the classroom.

The Dallas City of Learning initiative kicked off last week, led by the mayor's office, Big Thought—a Dallas community learning organization—and more than 50 other groups.

"Learning doesn't end when school does," said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, in an interview with KERA news in Dallas. "But we don't create structures to deal with it on a large-scale basis. We have a lot of good individuals programs. The key is to scale this."

"Chances for out-of-school enrichment aren't typically available to many of the kids in our city," said Gigi Antoni, the president and CEO of Big Thought, in a press release. "By 6th grade, kids from middle-income families have benefited from 6,000 more hours of enrichment compared to their lower income peers."

Participating youths in the host cities will be challenged to earn digital badges throughout the summer based on their participation in various activities, as a way to document their learning and accomplishments, according to the initiatives' websites. They will collect these in an online "backpack." According to a news release on the Dallas initiative, these badges will help young people have access to internships, jobs, and college admission because of their recognition of students' master of a new skill and any work they conducted.

Funders for the national initiative include the MacArthur Foundation, DePaul University, Mozilla Foundation, and Badge Alliance, with each city also tapping local funding, including local government. In Dallas, Big Thought and the city of Dallas, and their partner organizations, are the main funding source. 

Students can create an online account to explore topics, activities, and events that interest them, such as coding and games, science, sports, and storytelling. On the website, they can search for programs based on their area of interest and location. 

According to the press release, the Dallas initiative expects to reach over 10,000 youths across the city during this pilot summer.

On the West Coast, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District are also partnering with community organizations to engage students during the summer. The L.A. initiative will focus on four neighborhoods associated with poverty and crime, to help them access the cultural and intellectual assets near them. 

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