Educators call it the “summer slide.”
That is how they describe what happens to some children during summer vacation: They forget what they just learned, and when they return to school in the fall, they are behind by two or more months in reading.
The slide is most prevalent among low-income children, whose parents can’t afford the kinds of stimulating summer camps, clubs or other experiences the families of more-affluent peers can. As the years roll by, the slide becomes cumulative and more pronounced, reaching as high as three grade levels in reading by the time a child is in fifth grade.
Kids got a chance to know their teacher in a small-group setting.
Summer Boost, a partnership between the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound and Tacoma Public Schools, is showing signs of reversing the slide, according to data collected by the University of Washington Tacoma’s Center for Strong Schools.
The boost is happening not only in academics, but in areas such as how students interact with teachers and peers, so-called “social and emotional” skills.
“I expected (that kids would) avoid the summer slide,” said Tacoma Superintendent Carla Santorno. “What I didn’t expect were the gains in social and emotional learning.”
Greg Benner, a UWT professor and director of the Center for Strong Schools, said the two factors haven’t been examined side by side by education researchers. He said he was surprised by the results.
Among the results:
▪ More than 93 percent of students in the program avoided the summer academic slide.
▪ 41 percent made a year or more’s growth in literacy skills, measured by a standardized reading test administered at the start and end of the five-week program.
▪ On average, students in the program grew by 6 points on a standardized measure of social and emotional well-being, based on interviews conducted by professional UWT staff.
The program, begun on a small scale with about 30 students in the summer of 2014 and expanded last summer to include about 50 children, was aimed at students from low-income families who completed third grade and were behind in reading.
Summer Boost was held at two Boys & Girls Clubs in Tacoma, the Al Davies branch on South 17th Street and the Henry T. Schatz branch on South 66th Street. For the UWT study, Summer Boost students were compared with a “control” group — students who enrolled in other Tacoma summer school programs.
What made the difference?
Summer slide is most prevalent among kids from low-income families.
Boys & Girls Club officials attribute the success of Summer Boost to its non-traditional program design, which embedded Tacoma teachers into a free club summer program. Summer Boost ran for five weeks, part of a 10-week summer program at the Boys & Girls Clubs. Program hours were 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, the same as for other Boys & Girls Clubs summer sessions.
Each teacher worked with five to 10 students, offering two hours of academic instruction. Boys & Girls Club staff, who were trained in the positive behavior reinforcement “Whole Child” techniques used by Tacoma schools, provided enrichment activities, meals, snacks and games. The goal was to combine academics and summer fun.
“Stealth school” is how Mark Starnes, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, describes it.
“Kids got a chance to know their teacher in a small-group setting,” said Carrie Prudente-Holden, the clubs’ chief operating officer.
The program cost the school district about $59,000 this past summer and about $20,000 in the summer of 2014. The Boys & Girls Clubs raised $250,000 for the program, Starnes said.
Prudente-Holden said teachers reported that children who took part in Summer Boost experienced a powerful shift.
“It changed how they saw themselves,” Prudente-Holden said.
Santorno said she hopes to be able to apply what was learned in Summer Boost to other school district summer programs.
She said she would like to get follow-up data on students who are now fourth-graders. But she said she is hearing from teachers that Summer Boost has turned reluctant readers into students who are reading at grade level.
“Teachers are saying, ‘We can’t believe it,’ ” she said. “There’s a palpable difference.”
About the Boys & Girls Clubs
The 75-year-old Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound serves about 1,650 youths per day in Pierce, Kitsap and Mason counties.
Some demographic characteristics of club youths:
82 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches
49 percent live in single-parent households
11 percent live with someone other than a parent
26 percent are African American
36 percent are Caucasian
38 percent are from other races, including Asian and Hispanic