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Dayton Daily News: Schools aim for summer enrichment

By Jeremy P. Kelly
Published Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mad River schools are giving 240 students a summer math and reading boost through the BELL schools program, an example of the efforts to help local students avoid a "summer slide" in their skills.

By the time students finish ninth grade, summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between high-income and low-income students, according to Ritika Kurup, assistant director of the local ReadySetSoar education group.

That has led groups ranging from school districts to United Way to Dayton Metro Library to create summer education programs, many of them aimed at low-income or academically struggling students.

In Mad River and Trotwood schools, the Building Educated Leaders for Life program (BELL) helps academically at-risk kindergarteners through sixth-graders improve in reading and math.

Mad River assistant superintendent Necia Nicholas said students who participated in Mad River's BELL program last summer made a three-month gain in reading and nearly a two-month gain in math. Kurup said inactive students lose about 2.5 months of learning over the summer, forcing teachers to begin the year catching them up.

Beyond the academics, the program also aims to expand students' horizons.

Mad River superintendent Chad Wyen said the students take a field trip every Friday, including one to museums in Cincinnati. Brad Sims, a Mad River assistant principal who is overseeing the five-week BELL program, said some of the students had never been outside of Riverside and were simply in awe of the huge downtown buildings.

"Sometimes people think of school as drudgery - you've got to sit there in the desk all summer when you should be out playing," Nicholas said. "Well, they do play, they interact, they have enriching opportunities. And the academics are incorporated into the field activities."

Kurup said beyond the pure academics, those "enriching opportunities" are crucial for lower-income students who don't get as much access to museums or new books, to say nothing of life experiences like seeing the ocean on a vacation.

"This is exposure that children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods don't typically have," she said. "Even the chance to go to the zoo - if you have only read about a giraffe but never seen one, when you read, what does that (word) mean to you? We're trying to close the access gaps."

Nine-year-old Michael Rodriguez said he was working on multiplication, splitting rectangles and opinion writing Tuesday morning. Michael said he wasn't upset at spending much of his summer in school, recalling a STEM project he liked, plus the chance to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil for the first time on a field trip.

"It's fun, you do a whole bunch of stuff, you have a field trip every Friday and you see some of your friends here," he said.

Kurup identified several stakeholders who are trying to increase summer learning in Montgomery County:

  • Dayton Metro Library has expanded outreach to students, including easier access to library cards.
  • Greater Dayton RTA has distributed 19,000 books through its Read On RTA program, and has bookshelves and story times at some of its transit centers.
  • The YMCA has integrated more reading into its summer camps, East End Community Services works on literacy at its Miracle Makers group, and the United Way organizes several Freedom School sites around the county.

Kurup said anyone who wants to help a child learn this summer can start at the library, via the reading club and education apps online.

"Reading is a skill, and like any skill, we need to practice," she said. "We're not going to address the achievement gaps until we address summer."