Alexandria Column: Youth Education — Keeping Kids Motivated

Alexandria Column: Youth Education — Keeping Kids Motivated

Commentary-Community Lodgings

Students in Community Lodgings’ summer learning program play "Uno" during a short break.

Students in Community Lodgings’ summer learning program play "Uno" during a short break.

Summer is often anything but a vacation for low-income students, according to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). For those students, summer is a struggle to find safety, a nutritious meal, and to combat summer learning loss — meaning the loss of knowledge acquired in the prior school year. Summer learning loss, the NSLA site continues, "is one of them most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate [and] contributes to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success."

Summer learning loss is just not acceptable to us at Community Lodgings and we fight back with our youth summer enrichment program. Our learning curriculum complements our after school tutoring program that operates congruently with the Alexandria City Public Schools’ academic year.

Melanie Ficke, Community Lodgings' Youth Education Program Director, emphasized that the summer program is specifically designed to "keep learning retention over the summer" in creative and outdoorsy ways.

For example, staff and volunteers help students reinforce math skills through having the students count home runs and strikeouts by the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox because donors have pledged dollar amounts for each. Students calculate the donation totals and record the updates.

Staff member Cindy Lopez helped the students create "elephant toothpaste" where the students mixed water, hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing soap, yeast and food coloring into an empty plastic water bottle to create a colorful, overflowing foam.

In addition to helping learning retention, Community Lodgings' summer program provides a safe and positive place for students to go where they receive a nutritious lunch. We continue our school year partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank, which delivers a hot meal each day to the 70 children in our program held at three learning center sites in Arlandria and the city's West End. Ficke is pleased with the Capital Area Food Bank program and the partnerships that the staff has forged with other area organizations to provide the students with a holistic summer experience.

"Being able to partner with other agencies has enhanced the kids’ experiences," she said. Several weeks ago, 14 middle school students attended "camp" at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to learn more about responsible pet care.

Aside from academics, students take weekly field trips to places such as the White House, National Zoo, weekly trips to the pool, and regional and national parks, including Hemlock Overlook Regional Park for an afternoon of ziplining.

Jane Collins is the Community Lodgings communications/volunteer manager. You can reach her at or 703-549-4407.