Reducing “summer slide” is a hot topic in education. The idea is that students who do not read over the summer tend to lose some of what they gained during the previous school year. To remedy that issue, school systems are coming up with creative ways to keep kids reading over summer break.
To that end, the Owensboro Family YMCA and Owensboro Public Schools are working together for a new initiative aimed at reducing summer slide using a pilot group of incoming third-grade students at Estes Elementary School.
“Closing the Gap” is a six-week summer program that combines a literacy component with field trips and fun activities.
“What we’re doing is addressing the needs of the whole child,” explained Estes Elementary Principal, Shari Flagg . “It does help with summer slide, but it also gives these kids a jumpstart for third grade because the lead teacher is a third-grade teacher. But they’re also getting physical activity with the Y’s enrichment leaders, they’re getting real-world experience through the field trips, and they’re getting social interaction and building community with their classmates. And most importantly, it keeps them reading.”
Practically and logistically, it makes a lot of sense.
Owensboro Family YMCA is already running summer day camp for 600 kids throughout six locations in Owensboro. Estes is already a location for YMCA day camp and is also a location for the OPS summer feeding program. So when the idea of targeting summer slide through a day camp format was presented, it seemed like a natural fit.
With the idea in place, the YMCA applied for and secured a $13,500 grant from YMCA-USA to fund the program.
“We’re working together to get teachers, kids, and facilitators all in one place,” said Chad Hart, YMCA Program Director. In addition to funding, the YMCA provides the transportation for the ten kids in the pilot program, the 4-block curriculum framework, and staffing. For their part, Estes provided ten kids, breakfast and lunch through the summer feeding program, and the lead teacher, Whitney Jewell.
“Every kid needs to be given an opportunity to achieve their best. This developmental stage (between second and third grade) is crucial,” Hart said.
That’s why the goal of Closing the Gap is to target kids who are right on the cusp of excellence who can use the program to not only minimize summer slide but also use it to become better prepared for third grade.
The ideal student for the summer program, according to Flagg, is one who is willing to work hard, is excited to be there, and has the potential to benefit the most.
“We immediately recognized that this was a great opportunity for our kids. It levels the playing field for all kids. We’re removing the transportation barrier. It’s motivating and encouraging because it’s fun. And because it’s a small group of ten kids there’s a great learning ratio. It’s ten families, but it can have a great impact,” Flagg said.
Being in a familiar learning environment is another huge advantage for students in Closing the Gap. “Estes is their comfort zone. It’s their second home. They are used to being here,” Flagg explained.
Plus, Ms. Whitney will now be a familiar face for them next year. From the parents’ perspective, Flagg believes hosting Closing the Gap at Estes, rather than any other location, creates a level of comfort and trust. “I think parents are a lot more open to kids attending a summer program at their own school.”
Reading is a major part of Closing the Gap. Each morning is primarily dedicated to literacy activities. The field trips and enrichment activities in the afternoon tie back to the morning reading in some way and relate to the weekly themes and topics.
The four curriculum blocks for Closing the Gap are nutrition, music, physical activity, and the arts. As a result, the enrichment activities all reinforce the literacy activities.
As Flagg put it, it’s all about “creating teachable moments and making connections – reiterating what they read about in the morning by making connections that afternoon.” Hart agrees, “Even if it’s in the middle of a soccer game, we’re bringing it back around to the theme of the week and what they read that morning somehow.”
Building stronger families and stronger communities falls within the mission of the YMCA. Hart sees Closing the Gap as a way to accomplish that mission outside the walls of the Y. The long-term goal is to secure more funding to expand the program next summer. Estes and the Y are already talking about other ways they can work together. In fact, one of the methods Ms. Whitney used for the literacy component may be incorporated into other YUSA programs nationally.
As the pilot program nears completion, Closing the Gap has been nothing but positive.
These ten are knocking it out of the park – and having a great time reading while they’re at it!