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Winston-Salem Students Gain Reading And Math Skills During The Summer

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Oct. 27, 2014 - More than 1,000 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County third- and fourth-graders made impressive growth in their reading skills this summer. The gains were a result of a new summer reading camp, known as READy Scholars, offered in partnership with the school district and BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a non-profit organization.

Scholars were selected across the district and attended one of 10 elementary schools: Gibson, Hall-Woodward, Kernersville, Kimmel Farm, Konnoak, Mineral Springs, North Hills, Petree, Sedge Garden, and Speas. BELL was selected by the district to provide their state required third-grade reading camp as part of North Carolina's Read to Achieve legislation.

Of the 1,084 third- and fourth-graders enrolled in the program, the new test data shows that 70 percent began the summer underperforming in reading, scoring in the bottom 25th percentile on STAR enterprise assessments administered by BELL at the start of the summer. By the end of the six-week program, underperforming children had gained a full two months of reading skills, equivalent to 20 percent of learning in a school year.

Among the summer scholars were 601 third-graders who retook the state's end-of-grade reading test required for promotion to the fourth grade. Of those students, more time for learning in the summer enabled 109 to successfully pass the test and advance.

"The academic gains are fantastic," noted Dr. Beverly Emory, Superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School. "But even if we didn't see the gains, the program would still be worthwhile because of the chance it gives children to engage with learning in a different way and have experiences they would never have otherwise. I saw children crying at closing ceremonies because the program was ending. Imagine that. They were upset to be leaving school in the middle of summer."

A report presented by BELL to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education shows that students in the summer program were performing on average at the 14th percentile in reading, "an indication that they were significantly behind grade level." While nearly 500 scholars did not pass the state's end-of-grade reading test at the end of the summer program, many made tremendous gains in reading. There is no question that "participating in summer learning activities had a positive impact on reading achievement and helped mitigate summer learning loss," the report adds.

According to the report, "the data also hints that summer learning opportunities may have the greatest impact on scholars who have the most to learn. It highlights the importance of keeping scholars on track in grades K-3 so that by the time they reach the end of third grade, they are within reach of achieving grade-level proficiency and are able to transition from learning to read to reading to learn. It is important that intervention begins early and happens often."

The READy Scholars Summer Learning Program was successful on other levels as well, with 98 percent of the teachers reporting their students had increased their self-confidence and 90 percent of parents reporting their children had gained a more positive attitude toward school. Some 98 percent of the parents reported their children had enjoyed the program. And of the parents surveyed, 92 percent reported increased involvement in their scholar's education.

"Research shows that when children from low-income families are not engaged in structured learning activities in the summer, they lose 2 months' grade-equivalent in reading and math skills," explained Jerri Haigler, executive director of BELL of the Carolinas. "Our goal is to expand learning so that scholars can make significant academic gains, while also boosting their self-confidence and becoming more engaged in their education."

In a separate report to school administrators, BELL also disclosed the results from a second summer program in Winston-Salem delivered to 443 middle school students at two schools - Mineral Springs and Philo-Hill Middle Schools. That program, which focused on both reading and math skills, helped underperforming scholars gain an average of 1.3 months in grade-equivalent reading skills and 3 months in grade-equivalent math skills.

During the summer months, many children lack quality learning experiences and thus lose academic skills over the summer break. Such losses - two months or more each summer -- accumulate year after year. Recent studies have shown that by the end of eighth grade, summer learning loss can account for 66 percent of the achievement gap between low- and high-income students.

BELL is one of the nation's leading nonprofit providers of quality expanded learning programs for children in grades K-8. Its mission is to transform the academic achievement, self-confidence and life trajectories of children living in low-income, urban communities. BELL serves more than 12,000 students in public schools across the country. In North Carolina, BELL served 2,485 students in three school districts - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, New Hanover School District, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District. Visit www.experienceBELL.org for more information.

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