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Summer Learning on the Lagoon


• Clare Crowson

For many kids, learning doesn’t end when school break starts. They go to camps, visit museums, and so on. Enrichment and learning continues even though school is closed.

But for other students, the story is different. Their parents may lack the resources to fill the summer void. What these kids learned the previous school year begins to fade. When they return to school in the fall, they have to spend precious time catching up.

If this “summer slide” happens year after year, students face serious consequences as they fall further and further behind academically. One solution for this problem is summer learning camps. There are exceptional ones in Indian River County, Florida.

On the Lagoon

“Literacy on the Lagoon” was started six years ago with a partnership between the Environmental Learning Center and The Learning Alliance, an organization started by local parents to improve literacy education. At the end of the school year, principals in two local schools identify struggling readers moving into third grade. These students then join the four-week camp to improve their literacy skills.

During the program students are immersed in hands-on learning at the Environmental Learning Center. Image provided by Indian River Educational Television. 

The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most biologically diverse estuarine systems in the country. Through Literacy on the Lagoon, students spend two days a week immersed in hands-on learning at the Environmental Learning Center, located directly on the lagoon. Students use everything from canoes to classrooms to discover and investigate local plants and animals.

Students spend the remaining three days of the week at their local elementary schools in intensive reading lessons and studying more about the local environment. This combined approach, engages students and encourages reading so they can continue learning about the creatures they are exploring.

And the results? Students learning soars for Literacy on the Lagoon students—and not just in reading.

“Teachers notice the difference when these kids return to the classroom,” said Barbara Hammond, CEO and co-founder of The Learning Alliance. “Their self-esteem has totally changed by the time school starts again. The kids are excited and ready to keep learning.”

Lagoon QuoteLiteracy on the Lagoon students come from schools where the free and reduced lunch rate is high—around 70 percent. Yet Hammond says benchmark data shows these students outperforming grade-level and district-level averages on reading, math and science. By becoming stronger readers over the summer, students are also becoming more confident and capable learners across the board.

Moonshot Moment

This year, The Learning Alliance also partnered with Vero Beach Museum of Art and local schools to launch a similar program for rising first graders who need an academic boost.

During the space-themed learning camp, students spend two days a week exploring visual and performing arts at the museum, where one of the current exhibitions displays the art and artists of NASA. The remaining days, they spend at their local school—learning about constellations, building telescopes and researching planets.

Sneaky Reading

Even if kids aren’t attending academic camps this summer, they can still continue learning. Marie O’Brien calls this “sneaky reading.”

She is the Director of Community Outreach for Moonshot Moment, an effort led by families, schools and community members to improve K-3 reading for students in Indian River County. As summer break kicks off, O’Brien is working across the community to ensure students continue learning.

Million Pages participants will sign this original artwork at the campaign’s completion party in June.

Million Pages participants will sign this original
artwork at the campaign’s completion party in June.

“Even though you have a karate or sailing camp, you can incorporate reading or ‘brain breaks’ without having to mix up your program,” explained O’Brien. “This year, we’re sharing a common theme of ‘Sneaky Reading.’ Across the community, students and leaders are finding ways to sneak reading, writing and vocabulary into their activities.”

The community is also backing Moonshot’s Million Pages campaign. As a result, kids and adults have logged over 1,000,000 pages read since the campaign launched in April. These programs and others are encouraging learning and strengthening reading skills when students need it most.

It Takes a Village

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading recently honored the Indian River community for their leadership and efforts to solve challenges that halt early literacy and for showing the value of these learning camps and programs, and the lessons they teach.

Education is a collaborative effort and when programs are done properly and progress monitored, communities will embrace them—and children will be the ultimate winners.line

Visit ExcelinEd’s Policy Library to learn how your state can prioritize literacy and equip each student to become a strong reader, or contact Cari@ExcelinEd.org to learn how ExcelinEd can support your state.

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About the author


Clare Crowson

Clare@excelined.org

Clare is a writer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Prior to joining the Foundation’s communication team, Clare taught Spanish in her native Iowa and English in Jeju-do, South Korea. She graduated from Northwestern College with a degree in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language.