Partnerships help area students avoid summer slide

How do you prevent students from shutting off their brains all summer? It's called summer slide and some northwest Michigan educators are trying to combat it.
As the school year winds down and the temperature rises, a feeling of summer and freedom washes over young students. The last thing on their mind is more homework and reading. But what happens when these young minds sit idle for three months?

It is a fact that children who read over the summer retain more information and gain reading skills, while those who do not will frequently slide backward.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, students who do not read over the summer will lose roughly 22 percent, or about two months, of knowledge gained during the school year.

Every year, the gap widens. By sixth grade, children who lose reading skills over the summer will be a whopping two and a half years behind their classmates who picked up at least a book or two during their time off.

In addition, it's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been dedicated to teaching new information and skills.

So, how are schools keeping their students reading over the summer?

Charlevoix Elementary School has partnered with the Charlevoix Public Library to stop this "summer slide." The program, led by Charlevoix Elementary principal Doug Drenth and Charlevoix Public Library children's librarian Audrey Shapiro, is targeted toward students from kindergarten through sixth grade with the goal to curb reading skill loss over the summer.

Charlevoix Public Library decided they needed to change their summer programming to get more children into the library for summer reading.

"We are too familiar with the summer slide problem and this program is addressing that problem," says Shapiro.

The theme of the program this year is "Exercise Your Mind." Students are given an "I Love Reading" bag to take home, filled with a summer reading log, bookmarks to guide comprehension strategies, materials demonstrating reading strategies and how to exercise the mind, and reading games.

Materials are also sent home to parents and presented at parent-teacher conferences, including informational literature about the summer slide, risks of reading loss over the summer and how to decrease the gap.

Participating students are given an age- and reading-level-appropriate book to take home when the school year ends. Once it's read, the child writes a comment about the book, returns it to the library and takes home another book to read. This process continues all summer long.

Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District literacy consultants Jennifer Jess and Pam Ciganick play a big role in the effort to stop the summer slide.

"Our goals for the program are to provide access to interesting books and allow for student choice," Jess and Ciganick explain. "Studies show that students are more apt to pick up books over the summer if they are books that they've chosen and are of high interest."

Access to reading materials has been consistently recognized as a crucial element in enhancing the reading proficiency of young students. All too often, however, low-performing readers are offered little or no opportunity beyond the classroom to improve their reading skills.

Jess and Ciganick have high hopes for Charlevoix when it comes to addressing this issue. "Currently, schools can only afford to provide five or less books to students for this summer reading program. In a dream world, our neediest readers would receive twice as many titles."

Research shows that students who read about 20 minutes a day typically rank in the 90th percentile on standardized tests. Providing an enjoyable summer reading program for students that promotes reading can actually have positive effects on their independent reading habits.

Last year's program had 192 of the 472 Charlevoix Elementary students, or about 40 percent, participate in the Stop the Summer Slide program. That percentage is expected to go even higher this summer.

Stopping the summer slide needs to be a priority for both students and their teachers.

"Our results so far show interest and bigger participation in reading programs than in past years," says Shapiro. "These children are our future, and more and more are advancing through school without being able to read or comprehend well."

Charlevoix's Stop the Summer Slide program is well on its way to counteracting summer reading loss by encouraging reading during the summer and getting books directly into the hands of their students.

Just 20 minutes south of Charlevoix, Ellsworth Community Schools is initiating a similar program for their students to stop the summer slide, called "Borrowed Books & Brownies."

Superintendent and principal Aaron Gaffney is also determined to motivate Ellsworth students to continue reading throughout the summer.  

The program includes every student at Ellsworth being sent home with two books at the end of the school year. The students meet in June for a summer literacy night, where they discuss their books with each other and trade-in for a new book to be discussed at the July summer literacy night.

This summer will mark the second year of the program. In 2014, 53 percent of students attended at least one of the summer literacy nights.

In fact, when comparing test scores from the spring and fall of 2014 at Ellsworth, students who participated in the reading program showed a substantial decrease in learning loss.

Gaffney would like to see the program grow in the future with expanding to offer summer math nights, with the similar purpose of preventing learning loss during the summer months.

These programs are making big strides toward stopping the summer slide. The most rewarding part of being involved in these summer reading programs, though, is something that principals, librarians and literacy consultants can all agree on.

"The children are becoming truly excited about reading," says Shapiro. "We just want more students each year to read, participate and become involved in the program."

This piece was made possible through a partnership with InspirED Michigan, a project of the Michigan Public Schools Partnership. MPSP is a coalition of more than 50 education-related organizations, school districts and individuals committed to promoting the good news about Michigan public schools. To subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, click here.
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