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The Springfield Republican: This 'BELL' rings out for achievement

This 'BELL' rings out for achievement

Sunday, February 13, 2011
By ANOKHEE DAVE and MARY ELLEN BARON

It's been well documented that America suffers from an achievement gap - a persistent disparity that exists between children from low-income families in under-resourced communities and their more affluent counterparts.

That difference in learning is eating away at the fabric of our nation and will affect our global competitiveness for decades unless we close that gap.

Finding solutions is challenging in the best of circumstances. What we are currently experiencing in these under-resourced communities is that budget cutbacks make it that much more difficult to chip away at the gap.

What goes on in the classroom is obviously important in order to build a solid learning foundation. What makes or breaks the ability to retain this knowledge is defined by what happens outside of the typical school day - during the summer months, holiday breaks and after school.

Research shows that students lose, on average, two to three months of reading and math skills during the summer alone.

This problem, known as Summer Learning Loss, is particularly an issue for children in under-resourced communities. Even though winter is here, it's never too late to celebrate some good news when it comes to educating our children.

Springfield's public schools took a proactive approach to combating Summer Learning Loss by partnering with BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), this past summer to achieve three major goals: improved academic performance, enhanced self-concept and self-efficacy, and increased social skills.

When entering BELL, students - whom BELL recognizes as Scholars - are 1.2 years below grade level, on average. Research indicates that underperformance at the third grade level can predict with 68 percent accuracy which students will experience future negative outcomes such as early pregnancy, delinquency and dropping out of school.

BELL worked with Springfield schools to deliver high-impact summer learning programs to more than 1,000 of the city's most struggling scholars. The collaboration paid off, as the results from this past BELL Summer program in Springfield are overwhelmingly positive. On average, students who participated gained 9.4 months of grade-equivalent reading skills and 5.4 months of grade-equivalent math skills over the six week program.

Summer only lasts two months, but the learning that can take place in an academically based summer program is essential to ensuring continued student progress.

As a proud graduate of Springfield Public Schools, an advocate for education, and an employee of BELL I've come to fully believe in the philosophy that it takes a community to raise a child. It's important for the Springfield community to be invested in its children's future - by learning from those whose work contributes to BELL's vision for stronger academic achievements, closing the achievement gap and exploring ways in which to work together to realize our shared goals.

It is my privilege to work in the community where I grew up. It is my hope that BELL will have an increasing impact in this community, and all Springfield children will excel. Together we can ensure brighter futures for Springfield's children.

Anokhee Dave, Springfield Director and Government Relations Associate, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) Mary Ellen Baron, Senior Administrator for Extended Instructional Time, Springfield Public Schools.

Published in: The Springfield Republican, February 13, 2011