Here’s what Tacoma students did on their summer vacation

Almost 5,000 of Tacoma’s nearly 30,000 public school students — about 16 percent of the student population, and one of the biggest groups in years — took part in summer learning programs this year, according to a recent district report.

“At the high school level, we had almost three times as many students involved as last summer,” said Douglas Hostetter, director of secondary education for Tacoma Public Schools.

Reasons for the uptick include the school district’s renewed emphasis on summer programs and a broader menu of classes. Another contributing factor: Classes, meals and transportation were offered without charge.

A total of 669 high school students enrolled in 793 classes designed to help them make up missing credits, and 234 earned at least a half-credit. The credit retrieval classes helped get 11 students over the finish line to graduation.

For the credit retrieval classes, the district used a learning model that combines online learning and teacher instruction. The multimedia program, called Edgenuity, is linked to new Common Core state standards and can be used by students during the school year.

A total of 675 soon-to-be kindergartners took advantage of the school district’s Jumpstart program, a four-day session designed for students just beginning their academic careers. They learned school routines and what happens during a typical school day.

Another 733 students making the move from elementary to middle school, and 894 moving from middle school to high school, participated in programs aimed at helping kids know what to expect in the next school setting.

Spruced-up summer school programs are part of Tacoma’s efforts to help prevent the learning losses that research shows can occur when kids don’t participate in educational activities for several months. Educators call it “the summer slide.”

The losses are particularly acute for low-income students, who might lack access to the kinds of camps, family vacations or other summer enrichment activities available to their more affluent peers.

A 2007 study attributed more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids to summer learning opportunities.

Removing financial barriers by offering free summer classes can help bridge that gap, district officials say.

The school district also partnered with organizations throughout the city to keep learning going during the summer months.

One effort came through the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, which offered programs aimed at struggling second- and third-grade students (who are this year in third and fourth grade.)

A total of 610 Tacoma kids — most qualifying for school free and reduced-price lunches — participated at four locations.

Tacoma teachers joined forces with club staff members to offer science and math activities and reading support.

Abbie Barabe, assistant principal at Manitou Park Elementary, said 31 students from her school started the program, and 24 completed it.

She said 79 percent of the students showed reading growth within five weeks, and students from both grade levels improved math skills.