Indian River: TCPalm Coverage – Stopping the Summer Slide

Stopping the Summer Slide

Tania Ortega-Cowan, The Newsweekly
Published 12:31 a.m. ET July 12, 2017
Updated 12:31 a.m. ET July 12, 2017

The “summer slide” — that time from the last day of class to the start of the next academic year when students often lose some of what they have learned in school — is real, and fighting its effects is a cause of action for the Education Foundation of Indian River County and other community partners.

“Often, parents think they are doing the right thing for their children by keeping them home in the summer and giving them a break, but really that is not always the best thing,” said Cynthia Falardeau, executive director of the Education Foundation. “The way that we combat ‘summer slide’ is by providing children enrichment opportunities in which they are having so much fun they don’t even recognize that they are learning.”

A study by the National Summer Learning Association, which bills itself as a national nonprofit “focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing summer learning opportunities for all youth” found educators spend up to six weeks each year “re-teaching” material from the previous school year.

Here in Indian River County, the Education Foundation is leading the way to provide programs aimed at stopping the slide and helping students keep the trajectory of their academic studies moving forward.

“We are trying to create a culture within our community of children and parents having a growth mindset so the students can learn to persevere and be successful,” Falardeau said. “With a growth mindset, you can find your path and we want our children to be able to discover their way.”

The official anti-summer-slide slogan for 2017 is “We Can and We Will!”  and was on the lips and the T-shirts of students on their last day of Academic Youth Development, a four-week voluntary Summer Math Enrichment Program at Gifford Middle School.

It is also the longtime mantra of Kim Corby, one of the inspirational instructors in the Education Foundation’s Academic Youth Development summer math program.

“We know that Algebra I is a complex subject, so this program is a bridge to algebra,” said Corby. “They learn that just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean they can’t do it. They were faced with complex problems, like using math to solve a crime CSI-style, where they had to persevere in a safe, encouraging environment. This helps build confidence, and they will be more successful when they get to algebra.”

Academic Youth Development

Youth Development instructor Lisa Scardino asked her Gifford algebra class, “What is an ally?”

Several of the students answered at the same time: “Someone you can count on.”

Scardino smiled and nodded, adding, “This fall, you can influence your classmates by sharing the strategies we learned here. You are part of a ‘Positive Learning Community.'”

Who knew a math class could set children up for success in such a meaningful way?

The program is an innovative approach to applying math to real-life situations. Half of the classes are dedicated to learning math, and the other to tackling “Big Ideas.”

These include Working Harder/Getting Smarter, Getting and Giving Information, Maintaining Motivation, Productive Mindset, How Learning Feels, Meta-Cognition, and the Positive Learning Community.

The children break into small groups to work through each challenge and present their findings to the entire class.

“Think back to the first day,” said Scardino. “How have your beliefs changed?”

Answers rang out enthusiastically:

“Math is more bearable!” “

“Now I believe I wasn’t actually born with a level of smartness. I can get smarter.”

“With a productive mindset, the harder it is, the more you want to solve it.”

STEP into Kindergarten

What about children just starting their school careers?

“‘STEP into Kindergarten’ is a bridge program for 4- and 5-year-olds to prepare them for stepping into kindergarten in Title 1 schools,” Falardeau said. “Close to 200 children will complete the program this summer and assessments show increases of 90 percent readiness rates across the board.”

This free program, which runs June through July, is held at Glendale and Pelican Island Elementary schools, is aligned with the Moonshot Community Action Network and is funded by the John’s Island Community Service League, the Child Services Advisory Council, the United Way and matching grants.

The first day, each child receives a brand-new backpack filled with literature and guides.  Led by Krista Sadlers and Karen Malits, it is academically based, but having fun is also part of the program.

“We have reading in the morning, math after lunch, and a social-emotional component every afternoon,” said Sadlers. “We use stories in children’s literature to present a problem, and they figure out how to solve it together.”

Christen McMillan, Public Information Officer for the School District of IRC, who herself is a mother and was a teacher for eight years at her alma mater, Vero Beach Elementary, said: “Any time students have extra support in the summer, it’s much easier to transition into the school year. This is extra important for those little guys, because they are just figuring out what school is all about, and is also a major help to parents trying to learn the ropes themselves.”

“There is no other county or school district doing this with this kind of community collaboration with the school district and the funders,” Falardeau said. “I recently spoke at the National Conference of Education Foundations and other states asked us how did we collaborate so well with the School District and get community funders to invest? Now the Florida Consortium of Education Foundations is trying to engage larger funders like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to try to replicate our program.”

Generous donations

Of course, the Education Foundation’s focus goes beyond just summer.

“We received a $57,000 grant from the John’s Island Foundation to build a ‘Room of Engaging Ability Learning’ lab at the Wabasso School to help students transition into the real world, gain employment and to live independently,” Falardeau said.

The lab will be ready for the start of the new school year and extends the ‘Speak Up!’ project, which uses i-Pads to help non-verbal students communicate.

To kick off the next school year, the Education Foundation will hold a Back to School Party on Saturday, Aug. 5 at Riverside Theatre from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

To learn more about stopping the Summer Slide and the work of the Education Foundation, call 772-564-0034 or visit www.edfoundationirc.org.