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Philanthropy Thought Leadership

Raising Expectations’ summer programs set students up for year-round success

By Maria Armstrong and Tangee Allen, co-founders and co-executive directors, Raising Expectations

As students returned to in-person learning this past year, and mask mandates began to ease, it was tempting to see it as a return to normal. Things were finally starting to look the way that they used to.

But for those of us working with marginalized students—who, even before the pandemic, had to contend with tremendous disadvantages—things have not returned to normal. In fact, the game has changed entirely.

Across the country, achievement gaps between low- and high-income students have widened—as much as 20% in some places. And for those lacking adequate support systems, the return to the classroom has been particularly jarring. 

Many have struggled to readjust to the structure of in-person learning, resulting in confusion, discouragement and challenges with authority. Summer can be an opportunity for these students to either re-engage, or slide further into the vacuum exacerbated by the pandemic. 

In their annual report, the Greater Atlanta Summer Learning Council observes that when students don’t have access to high-quality summer learning programs, achievement gaps widen. According to the report, effective summer programs provide hands-on, full-day programming that includes academic and enrichment activities, cooperative learning and opportunities for students to broaden their horizons. 

 Summer programs help keep kids safe and healthy, support working families and close achievement gaps. With this in mind, Raising Expectations’ service delivery model and organizational philosophy have always been rooted in hands-on programming that includes academic support, enrichment activities and opportunities for students to expand their worldview. This is true of both our summer and school year programs. 

Our YouthWORK internship program immerses students in a simulated workplace for six weeks during the summer. There, they practice hands-on, project-based learning that emphasizes college and workplace readiness skills, while allowing them to explore STEAM-related career opportunities that include field experiences and job shadowing at corporate partner sites. 

We learned early on that afterschool programming that focused on a single strategy, such as tutoring, failed to address the complex challenges facing marginalized youth. 

To address these challenges, our program models have evolved to be responsive to students’ circumstances, providing long-term support that balances students’ academic, social and emotional needs. For youth who are used to being counted out, the most valuable assets we can offer are relationships based on trust and genuine care.

All of our efforts at Raising Expectations are based on holding young people accountable. This is because we genuinely believe in their ability to succeed. When students finally grasp this and recognize that we’re present in their lives to support them through the peaks and valleys of their adolescence, they begin to believe in themselves. Then, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

Unfortunately, there is no virtual option for this kind of work. Evidence across the nation has highlighted this fact. The support that we offer requires “boots on the ground.” 

We’re always looking for volunteers to assist as mentors and corporate partners who are either willing to provide our students with career exploration tours of their businesses, or financial support. If you are interested in engaging with Raising Expectations, please email Maria Armstrong: maria@raisingexpectations.org

In order to adjust to this new landscape, we must change the game by investing in our youth with high-quality programs that engage them over the long haul. That investment can take many shapes, but one thing is certain: Our youth are worth it. 

To learn more about Raising Expectations, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.


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