Staying ahead of the summer slide

DAVENPORT (AP) — Jahniya McDowell, 8, who this fall will be a third-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, is proud of her language skills. She also was part of a team who created a menu, set prices and will work in the Jets Cafe.
“We had antonyms and synonyms, and then we wrote the meaning,” she said during a session of Camp Re-Imagine, an enrichment camp that the Davenport School District presents in partnership with the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency.
At the camp, the children — referred to as “scholars” — learned about health, creating a menu and running a restaurant, planting and tending a butterfly garden, creating a Lego carnival and engineering.
The camp, free and open to all students, drew about 100 children. It is one of the Quad-City initiatives that will help prevent the “summer slide.”
This slide isn’t something for children to go down. The phrase refers to the tendency of students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the school year.
Quad-City educators, school districts, museums, libraries and other non-profit organizations provide learning experiences for students to prevent the summer slide, the Quad-City Times reported. So children like Jahniya and fellow scholar Himar Chavez, who makes it clear he soon will turn 8, are excited about showing the community what they have learned.
In the meantime, educators collaborate on how to prevent the slide and even accelerate learning for students during the summer.
Diane Campbell, with Mississippi Bend AEA, said the agency is a strong partner with the Davenport district. Camp Re-Imagine, she said, is “not only to prevent the summer slide, it’s actually to increase their skills, so that when students come back to school, they’re actually ahead of the game.” She said the partnership with the district has been “amazing.”
For teachers, Camp Re-Imagine has been a learning experience, too. Chelsey Knapper, who teaches second grade at Jefferson, instructed students in the Lego Carnival, where students learned about coding and what Lego pieces can do. “We taught them the basics of simple machines,” she said, adding that their projects involved vocabulary building, too.
“They were really excited about it coming in,” said teacher Elizabeth McCartney, who also teaches second grade at Jefferson. “We built on their enthusiasm.” Students even used a 3-D printer to design their own Lego-type pieces, she said.
Other Quad-City initiatives provide ample summer learning opportunities for students, too. For example, Mike Raso, superintendent of Bettendorf schools, said the district has a variety of approaches to preventing the summer slide. “We try to do our best, especially with our kids who are struggling or are already behind. We have summer school in all our buildings during summer time,” he said.
At the high school, credited recover classes help students who need to make up credits.
“In a couple of our schools, we have a teacher who reads to students during the summer,” he said. “They read together. For an hour or two, they invite anybody to come in and bring a book, or they have informal reading times.”
Not all students “slide” during the summer, Raso said. “Some students grow during the summer. They have experiences outside of school, they travel and go to different camps,” he said. “But not all students can do that. We try to set up opportunities for students during the summer time.”
He stressed that it’s important to get children to read proficiently by the third grade. Grade-level reading by the end of third grade is an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.
According to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Most students who fail to reach that milestone falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.
The skills low-income students lose over the summer are cumulative, and contribute to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students whose parents might not be able to afford to enroll their children in some summer programs.
“For the past three years, more than 90 percent of the children completing Spring Forward camps have either maintained or gained in their reading levels,” said Dan McNeil, executive director of the Spring Forward Learning Center, Rock Island, which partners closely with the Rock Island-Milan School District.
The center serves more than 600 children in after-school and summer programs provided free to families.
For Spring Forward, the past five summers have been focused on building and growing six-week enrichment to address educational inequality. This summer, Spring Forward served more than 400 children at five summer camps, providing teachers at the Martin Luther King Center Camp and partnering with Augustana College for the new Kids on Campus. Camps included field trips, games and other activities.
Elsewhere, five non-profit organizations are participating in a series of field trips created by The Moline Foundation. Known as “Let’s Getz Going,” the trips are funded by the Tom & Karen Getz Summertime FUNd, the Conrad Nelson Memorial Fund and The Moline Foundation.