Inspiring Summers program provides crucial literacy learning opportunities for San Mateo County students

Inspiring Summers
Students in The Big Lift's Inspiring Summers program

Andrea Jones

Andrea Jones
Initiative Officer, The Big Lift
Center for Early Learning, SVCF

Eli is a smart, energetic 6 year old who loves to learn. But last year, his parents worried about how he’d adjust to attending Kindergarten in the fall. Eli had never attended preschool, and he had trouble focusing. So Eli joined the Inspiring Summers program, presented by The Big Lift. 

During the program, Eli and other students worked on their literacy and reading skills, and participated in experiential learning and enrichment programs, like studying dinosaurs on “Science Friday” and taking field trips to local museums.

After a successful year in Kindergarten, Eli is participating in the Inspiring Summers program for a second time – and his parents couldn’t be happier with his progress. His mother says: “This program has been such a gift for our family. Inspiring Summers helped prepare him for Kindergarten and we’re so thankful that he can participate again this summer.”

Eli is one of the 1,500 children attending The Big Lift’s Inspiring Summers program in San Mateo County. The Big Lift is an initiative co-led by Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the County of San Mateo and the San Mateo County Office of Education. The Big Lift aims to boost student reading and literacy through various efforts, including the Inspiring Summers program. Other efforts focus on high-quality preschool, student attendance and family engagement.

Developing crucial reading skills 

Reading proficiently by third grade is a significant milestone in a child’s life. Before third grade, a child learns to read – after third grade, a child must read to learn. Unfortunately, 70 percent of San Mateo County’s low-income children are not reading proficiently by the time they finish third grade. Research has shown that children who don’t read proficiently by third grade can struggle academically and throughout their lives. 

Big Lift’s Inspiring Summers program works to ensure that children who struggle to read – or do not have access to high quality, affordable summer programs – can now take part in fun and engaging learning experiences throughout the summer. 

In particular, the Inspiring Summers programs helps students combat “summer learning loss.” Typically, low-income children lose two months of learning between June and August, when most schools are closed. 

In 2016, children who participated in the Inspiring Summers program made significant gains in their reading skills. Instead of losing two months of learning, the students gained one to two months of literacy skills – that’s a net gain of up to four months of literacy skills! 

Continuing the impact of The Big Lift

Inspiring Summers has grown from serving 750 children in four school districts in 2016 to serving 1,500 children in seven school districts. The Big Lift partners with San Mateo County Libraries, Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) and the school districts to offer the program, and curriculum development is supported by the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Google and Genentech.

Inspiring Summers and other Big Lift programs are helping students in San Mateo County. However, the future of the program is unsure, as federal funding was cut  from a budget agreement reached by Congress. 

Those wishing to help are encouraged to donate online

SVCF and other leaders of The Big Lift are working diligently to make additional contingency plans and raise replacement funds to mitigate the loss of $9 million in federal funding. In the meantime, The Big Lift is more dependent than ever on donations from individuals, families and organizations so that all San Mateo County students can learn to read by third grade.  

Together we can ensure children like Eli continue to receive crucial literacy support and educational opportunities!