The “summer slide” is not something you do at Wild Waves.
Teachers know what it is. It’s the regression in learning many children experience during summer vacation if they’re not involved in enrichment programs like summer school or tutoring. Some kids only backslide a little, but it can be a big problem for low-income children, whose reading skills decline an average 2.5 months over the break.
The good news is that Summer Boost – an innovative partnership between local school districts and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound – seems to have hit on a way not just to thwart the summer slide but to boost low-income children’s reading skills. Oh, and help with their social and emotional development as well.
The program, which began with 30 Tacoma third-graders in the summer of 2014, grew last year to 200 from five school districts: Tacoma, Bethel, Clover Park, Peninsula and South Kitsap. The districts provided teachers to work with Boys & Girls Clubs children who had been identified as most in need of extra academic help before entering fourth grade.
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The program – which takes up two hours of a child’s day at the club – has some special components. Most important is the teacher-student ratio, typically one teacher for every five to 10 children. In many cases the children know the teachers from their own schools, creating a comfort level.
Because it’s part of the day’s activities at the Boys & Girls Clubs, Summer Boost doesn’t have the stigma that many children feel about having to go to summer school. The program takes a nontraditional approach to learning, one that substitutes small groups instead of sitting in classroom rows. Lessons are sneaked into fun activities, making Summer Boost a “stealth school” that kids look forward to, not dread.
The Boys & Girls Clubs knows the program is working because it asked the University of Washington Tacoma Center for Strong Schools to evaluate it. Greg Benner, a UWT professor and executive director of the center, was surprised by just how well it works. More than 93 percent of the participants experienced no summer backslide, and 41 percent improved their literacy by at least one year.
Just as important was the kids’ growth in social and emotional health. Benner reports, in the study being released today, that they made significant gains in such skills as listening and sharing. While 34 percent of them were at moderate to high risk of emotional problems at the beginning of the program, by its end that number had dropped to 12 percent.
Summer Boost isn’t just about helping kids learn. It’s also about improving the behavioral skills that will serve them well all through their school years. Greater success in school pays off in fewer disciplinary problems, higher graduation rates and less interaction later on with the criminal justice system.
Benner says each $1 invested in such “whole child” intervention pays off by saving society $17 down the road.
Besides the district’s contribution of teachers, Boys & Girls Clubs donors contributed $250,000 toward the enrichment program. Their generosity is paying off. It would be great if the program’s winning formula could be expanded to every child who needs it.