Guest Blog: Kids on Course University

Summer vacation in America typically elicits images of family getaways and new adventures. But for about half of the children in Cedar Rapids, Iowa the months of June, July and August are a time when they are unsure where breakfast and lunch will come from. Their families fall below 185 percent of the federal poverty level and are not able to afford high quality camps or child care. Summer can be a lonely, and sometimes hungry time, when the gains made in academics during the school year erode.

How children spend their summers correlate with their success in ninth grade, which, in turn, is a strong predictor of high school graduation and college acceptance. Research published in 2007 from Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson was clear in the long-term impact of summer learning loss, known as “Summer Slide” on America’s achievement gap between poor and rich children.

That’s why the Zach Johnson Foundation partners with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to provide Kids on Course University for more than 750 children each summer, since its expansion in 2016.

Seven weeks of what summer should be:

Field trips.



Kids on Course University takes place within schools and includes instruction from certified teachers with very small classes, so children get individualized attention. The outcomes are outstanding. In the summer of 2018 73 percent of students grew their reading skills, 77 percent grew in math. One in three reached new high scores on their state-mandated FAST reading fluency test when they came back to school in the fall. That’s an impact that goes far beyond the summer.

One hundred percent of this program is free. If we charged what this program costs, each child would have to pay more than $1,500 to participate. But about eight out of ten children who attended Kids on Course University in 2018 didn’t have enough money at home to afford food, so we know charging anything at all would mean losing the very kids Zach and Kim Johnson wanted to reach. That means the Zach Johnson Foundation Board, 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the United Way of East Central Iowa, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, The Cedar Rapids Schools Foundation, Kirkwood Community College, and many private donors will continue digging deep and giving generously to support these robust summer experiences for children.

Because every child deserves a summer where laughter, learning, and healthy lunches are routine. Where thinking thrives and the new school year is a chance to shine.

Beth serves the Kids on Course team as Program Leader, board director of the Zach Johnson Foundation and mom to all. She ensures team members have what they need to make sure students are on the path to college graduation and that staff members take care of themselves in the process. She’s not a doctor, but she likes to play one on TV when reading health stories as a news anchor at KCRG-TV9 (Cedar Rapids, IA).