It’s an odd reality that the kids who stand to gain the most from summer camps and enrichment programs often can’t access them at all.
That’s what Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center Associate Director Tom Miller found last year when he assessed The Fort’s summer offerings. Though The Fort has a good track record of reaching low-income students in its school year program, Tennis2College, few of these students were attending The Fort’s Tennis & Fitness summer camp.
In this case, the barrier wasn’t cost; The Fort offers need-based scholarships to camp participants. Rather, Miller found that many of the low-income students The Fort serves were enrolled in summer school, preventing them from taking part in the daytime camp.
That’s where The Fort’s unique summer camp iteration was born.
T2C Summer Camp is an after-summer-school program serving more than 50 students. The Fort partners with two summer school locations to bus students in twice a week for two hours of afternoon tennis, life-skills and academic programming, all based around the theme “Health, Wellness & the Environment”.
“We found that aligning with the summer school schedule really allows our target demographic to participate,” says Justin Margolies, middle school program coordinator.
Six weeks of additional contact with students are hugely important for a program aiming to tackle Minnesota’s notorious income-based achievement gap. According to Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, “about 40% of the achievement gap can be made up in school. The other 60% needs to happen outside school,” in programs like Tennis2College.
Research is on Johnson’s side. Participation in quality after-school programs has been shown to improve academic performance in addition to yielding social, emotional and health benefits.
The importance of out-of-school time doesn’t diminish when summer rolls around—in fact, it may only increase. Some researchers have suggested that more than half of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
The direct long-term result: low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school and attend college.
Tennis2College aims to take likelihoods out of the picture for the 350+ students it serves each year. Its active and engaging after-summer-school program is a crucial part of the solution, for both camp participants and the five high-school aged camp interns and volunteers.
“Tennis is the hook, as it always is,” says Margolies. “But the kids seem to be really getting into the rest of it, especially the nutrition and the active components. The camp is hands-on and the kids gain positive and practical habits and skills they can use for many summers to come.”