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Idaho Statesman: Boise School District, YMCA team up to keep learning fresh while school is out

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Photo by Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

By Bill Roberts
Published Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sixth-grade students in Jill Palmer's summer-school class at Lowell Elementary School were busy creating game-style spinning cards with fractions on them instead of whole numbers.

The object: spin the pointer and total the fractions. The first person whose total equals 1 loses a turn. "You can show your mom," Palmer said. "You can show your siblings."

Palmer is part of a pilot partnership between the Boise School District and the Treasure Valley YMCA to provide learning through hands-on education to stem students' academic losses over the summer. For five weeks, 226 students with a range of abilities will work on reading and math as part of the Power Scholars Academy.

The YMCA of the USA contributed $75,000 to launch Power Scholars in Boise this summer. The Boise School District put up $100,000, with about a quarter from state funds to improve reading. The rest came from the district's general fund.

When summer ends, the school district will evaluate the program in comparison with similar summer programs it operates and their cost, said Ann Farris, area director for schools in the Boise High School area.

Power Scholars started three years ago and is used by 17 YMCAs across the country. It uses a curriculum based on the Common Core State Standards and developed by Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, a Boston nonprofit that has created summer-school curricula for 22 years.

Common Core is a set of education standards for what students should learn in English and math before graduation. Idaho and most other states have adopted versions of it. Idaho students took their first statewide achievement test based on the standards this spring.

Research shows nationally that 70 percent of the gap in how well students perform in schools is attributable to students who simply forget what they have learned over the summer, said Lauren Gilbert, vice president of program impact for BELL. Gilbert met Tuesday with Boise school officials, some neighboring school districts and YMCA representatives from Idaho, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado.

"The research is pretty clear that summer loss is pretty huge among disadvantaged kids," said Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent. "What this gives us is the opportunity to reinforce the skills that kids have learned during the year and make sure there is not a slide back."

Power Scholars at Lowell brings together students with a range of abilities working to turn summer academic loss into summer academic gain.

Students who take BELL's curriculum average a three-month gain in reading and a two-month gain in math over a summer, Gilbert said.

For teachers, that can mean starting the school year without having to spend days or weeks revisiting materials that students learned previously.

In several classrooms, learning is collaborative and occasionally punctuated by laughter and loud voices as students discover new games and ways to learn.

In one fourth-grade classroom, students learn multiplication by tossing dice. One die is encapsulated in another, and its sides can be read through the transparent outer die's shell. One student tosses the dice. When they come to a standstill, the student compares the multiplication of the two dice with one a student got from an earlier turn.

Marvin Rogers, 10, who came from Africa about 18 months ago, threw a three and a five, which equals 15. Across the table, Sophia Eden tossed a pair of fours, which equals 16.

"She has the largest number," Rogers said. That makes her the winner of the round.

The national YMCA will taper off funding to the Treasure Valley YMCA to $50,000 next year and $25,000 the year after. Jim Everett, the local YMCA's soon-to-retire CEO, plans to seek local funds to make up the difference.

Jodie Mills, the Caldwell School District's acting superintendent, attended the Power Scholars demonstration Tuesday. She said she will push to get the program in her district, which just learned that its scores on the Common Core test were lower than expected on the initial test.

"This program will allow us to get an opportunity with our summer gain," she said.


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