In 2007, Elad Gross started reading a study about summer learning loss in a small dorm room in Durham, North Carolina.
Remember when you came back to school from summer break and it felt weird to use a pencil and lined paper for the first few days? That's an example of summer learning loss, the term that captures all of those things you forget over the summer.
In communities with less resources and less things for kids to do over the summer, summer learning loss can be a really bid deal. Some studies have shown that summer learning loss can cause kids to fall behind by several grade levels over time.
Elad had been a counselor at SummerQuest - the summer camp at Clayton High School - for a few years before he started reading studies about education. And as he was reading, Duke University opened applications for DukeEngage, an effort to fund students doing community service all over the world. Elad went to an informational meeting and asked if he could just go back home. No reason why he couldn't!
Early Years: Teaching Assistantships
Elad and his sister, Anat, along with several students from Duke, one student from Emory University, and one student from Mt. Holyoke College, were members of the first group of volunteers in the summer of 2008. They served as teaching assistants at Lexington Elementary in North St. Louis City. They even got to visit the Science Center, and who doesn't love the Science Center!?
During that first summer, Elad worked with the youngest group of kids: incoming first graders. Some loved reading and couldn't get enough of the short story books in the classroom. But some couldn't read at all. Many of the other teaching assistants saw the same thing in their classrooms too. Soon, Elad began recording the challenges kids, families, and teachers were facing. There were a lot.
Working closely with the St. Louis Public Schools and area universities, the Education Exchange Corps placed college students as teaching assistants in classrooms throughout the city, both during the summer and regular school year.
The EEC used an online placement system to allow teachers to sign up for help and teaching assistants to pick the classroom that met their interests. The organization served thousands of students and placed over 100 volunteers per semester in city classrooms.
But, over the years, the program had to adapt to changes. School district and university leadership changed. Summer school was cut back to fewer weeks, and teachers didn't think having teaching assistants for only a few weeks would help.
There was still a big need for student and family engagement.
To cover the cuts in summer school length, the EEC began running summer academies in July to give kids more programming. The summer academies each had a theme - Harry Potter (including a class called Magical Potions!), the Olympics, Medieval Fantasy - and, eventually, the EEC began working primarily at Clay Elementary in the Hyde Park neighborhood in North St. Louis City.
The EEC has been working with the Hyde Park community since 2010 and have run summer programming since 2011, with one exception....
Ferguson Library Emergency School Program
Shortly before the EEC's summer academy at Clay Elementary was set to begin in 2014, the EEC and many other community partners learned that the district did not have the funding to keep the school open in the summer anymore, or to maintain any of the community education programming the school was well known for.
In August, a few school districts in north St. Louis County were closed during the Ferguson protests. A Ferguson-Florissant art teacher partnered with the local library to hold an emergency school program. The EEC assisted in volunteer recruitment and management, and in helping teach hundreds of students. The EEC returned to help in November when protests resumed.
The Global Leadership Simulation
In 2015, the EEC debuted the Global Leadership Simulation, a board game that teaches kids the power they have to run the world. The game puts kids in charge of countries and asks them to deal with the world's greatest challenges, from global warming to killer asteroids to robot rebellions.
The game served as the focal point for the full three-week summer program in 2015, which was held in the Hyde Park neighborhood at Most Holy Trinity Church.
The EEC also run the Global Leadership Simulation as a professional development course for St. Louis teachers and as an hour-long activity for St. Louis University Law students and other adults.
In 2016, the EEC ran the same game, this time with different challenges. Also in 2016, the EEC hired local high school students to staff the program, addressing a major local need for youth employment opportunities.
In 2017, Sam Golembieski, one of the EEC's long-time volunteers and board members, passed away. The board decided to name the youth employment program after him. as well as add college scholarships and civic engagement and financial management training to the employment program.