Today’s guest post is by Dr. Brittany Birken, CEO of the Florida Children’s Council, and Jenn Faber, Director of Florida’s Grade Level Reading Campaign.
Images associated with summer often include children playing in sprinklers, arts and crafts and popsicles. While this conjures a fun, romanticized notion of summer, in truth these three months represent a full quarter of the year that have a significant impact on learning and achievement.
If left unchecked, these months of vacation can easily result in the “summer slide.”
The summer slide is what happens over the summer when students aren’t in school and their minds are potentially idle for up to three months. Research spanning 100 years has proven that most students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer. In fact, children who do not read or have access to enriching, stimulating activities during the summer can lose up to three months of reading achievement.
And here is something even more profound: summer reading loss is cumulative. By the end of fifth grade, children who annually lose reading skills over the summer will be three years behind their classmates.
Knowing this, what can we do?
Researchers have demonstrated that six-week summer learning programs can make a difference and produce significant gains in reading performance. Funders, policymakers and community leaders can help schools and local organizations address summer learning loss by supporting strong programs and engaging more children in summer learning opportunities. Summer school is no longer remedial; its new format is a blend of core academic learning, hands-on activities, arts, sports, technology and meaningful relationships.
In Florida, we have a number of communities focused and working diligently on year-round strategies to support grade-level reading. In the summer, there are a number of community activities that support continued literacy development.
Below is a sampling of strategically implemented, grade-level reading community initiatives to help prevent the summer slide. These are tremendous examples of community-led solutions working toward the greater goal of getting all kids reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
- Martin County hosts the seven-week “Rock and Roll Reading Program.” The program is a collaborative effort of four funders, five agencies and 13 sites (school and non-school), serving 330 struggling first- or second-grade readers. Through the program, certified elementary teachers work with small groups of children (at a 1:10 ratio) three days a week for 90 minutes a day. There is also a family involvement and teacher training component.
- Broward County hosts the “Sprouting the Seeds of Literacy Program” at seven sites. The program focuses on the entire family, with media specialists working two days a week, offering computer access and hosting family literacy nights.
- Palm Beach County donates 10,000 books to the Palm Beach County Food Bank, CROS Ministries and the USDA’s Summer Break Spot locations to ensure children receiving food assistance during the summer also have access to food for their minds. Books are also added to the weekend backpacks full of food that are distributed to children through local food pantries in the summer months.
- The city of Delray Beach provides summer reading programs at local camps with support from the school system to administer pre- and post-reading assessments, serving nearly 600 students. The assessments revealed an 11 percent increase in the number of students assessed as “early fluent” (from 28 percent to 35 percent) or “fluent” (from 12 percent to 16 percent) readers.
- Pinellas County provides 10,000 Pinellas County children with books during summer months. The county’s initiative targets children younger than age nine and provides families with reading tips and a list of area public libraries.
- Indian River County kicked off the summer by hosting a luncheon workshop with more than 20 leading camp providers to educate them on building additional literacy-related skills into their programs. These providers are implementing brain smart activities and quiet area reading corners. Additionally, the county’s spring book drive, “Page It Forward,” collected over 2,000 children’s books to be given away at community “Stop Summer Slide” events.
- Through special legislation, Jacksonville received an additional $701,000 in Summer Camp funding to provide an additional 1,870 youth to attend five weeks of a literacy-focused summer camp for free.
- Hillsborough County’s “Summer Care” program partners with area summer camps to provide: 1) scholarships for low-income families, 2) financial education classes and on-going coaching for parents, 3) a nationally recognized summer curriculum designed to combat summer learning loss and 4) tutoring for students who are struggling with reading.
- Manatee County launched a “Summertastic Reading Challenge” for the first year. Challenge participants take a pledge to read with a child in their life for 20 minutes a day; participants also receive a weekly email with literacy tips and resources.
- Sarasota County continued its successful Alta Vista Eagle Academy, a seven-week summer program getting students ready to start kindergarten and preventing summer learning loss for those already in school.
- Brevard County provides 16,000 books to more than 2,000 summer camp children in low-income areas with their food packs through their “Feed and Read Program.” Volunteers are also recruited to read with the children.
Sixteen Florida communities have established or are developing community initiatives to support improved student outcomes. Community engagement is critical to support our state educational goals. Dr. Birken and Ms. Faber are working with communities, state partners and the National Grade Level Reading Campaign to create a statewide movement to ensure all children read on grade level by the end of third grade through promoting school readiness and quality instruction, tackling chronic absence and improving summer learning, as well as engaging parents as their children’s first teachers. For more information, please visit: FLChildrensCouncil.org.