County partnerships reverse summer slide

From the Editorial Board

Kaitlyn Bodie reads while Ra-Shauna Lilly, center, listens attentively. 2016
Kaitlyn Bodie reads while Ra-Shauna Lilly, center, listens attentively. 2016 The News Tribune

News on the education front has been pretty dismal lately, and in case we forget that ours is a funding system in crisis, we have a $100,000 daily fine to help us remember.

The Washington State Constitution is pretty clear when it comes to the state’s priority for education: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling made evident that education in Washington has not been “paramount;” spending has not been “ample,” and the unevenness of levy funding shows it has not been for “all.”

It’s the reason our state Superintendent Randy Dorn gives for filing suit against seven school districts in the state.

It’s enough to make a person throw up their hands and yell, “Is anything going right with Washington education?” To which, we are happy to report, the answer is yes — it’s happening in our own backyard.

Forget old images of summer school where kids sit in stuffy classrooms looking forlornly out windows. Thanks to local and independent entities working in tandem, Pierce County is taking summer learning up a few notches.

Greg Benner, the University of Washington Tacoma professor and director of the Center for Strong Schools, has just completed a peer review manuscript on the effects of “Summer Boost,” the unprecedented collaboration between UWT, Tacoma Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.

The findings suggest students in the Summer Boost program avoid the typical summer academic backslide. The program credits the combination of social/emotional learning with academic instruction, believing social confidence and academic competence go hand-in-hand.

Carrie Prudente-Holden, Boys & Girls Clubs chief operating officer, believes this innovative Tacoma program is leading the way when it comes to rethinking summer learning. Instead of children going into summer school, the teachers are coming to them.

Prudente-Holden says when teachers come into the kids’ space, reading instruction becomes part of a holistic program, and the stigma of summer school is replaced with enthusiasm. Every day, kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs are excited to read, and reading is where most kids lose ground in the summer.

Research shows the cumulative effect of summer learning loss can cause students to drop three grade equivalents by fifth grade; and if a student is not reading well by the third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of school.

Enter Pierce County and Tacoma library systems, which also are doing their best to tackle those statistics, and both library systems are happy to report very active summer reading programs this year.

Kids are logging their minutes and earning prizes. Last year, Pierce County Library totaled more than 8 million minutes read by children. Beth Luce, Pierce County Library communications manager, believes this year will be just as good.

Local libraries also are taking advantage of the Pokémon GO frenzy. If you catch a Pokémon in the Tacoma library, you can put your name on a Pokeball. Librarians report that Pokémon books, graphic novels and DVDs are getting kids back into the library.

So, when it comes to education, we may not be doing as poorly as our headlines suggest. Pierce County zeroed in on summer learning loss and through a collaborative effort, found ways to problem-solve.

Let’s hope some of that smart thinking makes its way to Olympia.