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Longer summer school sessions in KC area tackle seasonal learning loss

Instructor Justin Greene (middle) checks the work of a group of fifth graders, who were recently attending a summer school class at Indian Creek Elementary School. Selected students from throughout the Center School District can participate in an expansively long summer school program organized by the YMCA, which also earned the federal grants and other support for the program.
Instructor Justin Greene (middle) checks the work of a group of fifth graders, who were recently attending a summer school class at Indian Creek Elementary School. Selected students from throughout the Center School District can participate in an expansively long summer school program organized by the YMCA, which also earned the federal grants and other support for the program. The Kansas City Star/RSUGG@KCSTA

Most of Coriann Maddix’s friends were out of summer school after four weeks in June, if they’d gone at all.

But the 5-year-old sprite — that’s five-and-a-half, she said — was making good on a lot of extra time to get ready for the first grade.

“I can read a whole book,” she said recently. “Even the big words. … ‘different,’ ‘because,’ ‘beautiful.’”

A partnership between the YMCA and four area school districts gave her and her classmates at the Center School District’s Indian Creek Elementary plenty of time to learn: six full weeks of summer school, into mid-July, every weekday including Fridays (not summer school’s usual four-day week).

In one of the more aggressive assaults on the malaise of summer learning loss, four schools scattered on both sides of the state line did the extra time this year.

“This is about the impact we can have on youth’s lives,” said Nick Fleeman, the program director for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City.

The partnering schools — the others are Satchel Paige Elementary in the Kansas City Public Schools, Shawnee Mission’s Rosehill Elementary (using the Apache Elementary building because of construction) and Olathe’s Ridgeview Elementary — were eager.

Each program served incoming first- and second-graders, except Indian Creek, which was piloting an expanded program that serves grades up to incoming fifth-graders.

At-risk students take part in a special summer learning loss prevention program.

They and most other schools would be offering the longer summer programming on their own, if they had the resources.

“Funding is hard to find for summer school,” said Tyler Shannon, principal of Center’s Red Bridge Elementary, which also enrolled summer students at Indian Creek.

Districts have been looking for creative ways to expand summer school because so many children arrive in August having lost ground from when they left school in May.

Concern runs high for low-income children likely to lose two to three months of reading achievement over the summer, according to research compiled by the National Summer Learning Association.

That research shows higher-income children, who are more likely to have more summer learning opportunities, tend to see slight gains.

The YMCA, which has long been partnering with many schools to provide before- and after-school services during the regular school year, wanted to join the effort for summer learning.

Its Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program started in South Carolina and expanded into Kansas City three summers ago at Satchel Paige Elementary School.

The YMCA has been earning federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants to support the program, adding the additional three schools this summer — with hopes to add more children in the future.

The programming won the attention of the Kauffman Foundation, which is providing the funding to continue the work at Satchel Paige.

Summer experiences for children, especially lower-income children, are important investments in the health of the city, said Gloria Jackson-Leathers, the director of Kansas City civic engagement at the Kauffman Foundation.

“There is limited amount of funding for after-school programming” that helps make Kansas City “a better place to live, work and play,” she said. “Someone has to take up the slack. We’re all going to pay one way or the other.”

The YMCA program combines its own staffers with certified teachers from the partnering school districts to provide a full day of services. The hours — 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — are set to fit working families’ schedules, with bus transportation for those who need it.

The school day ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with 21/2 hours of strictly structured reading instruction each morning and a mix of lighter programming throughout the rest of the day.

“It gets harder and harder,” said Johnaye Barber, 10, a Red Bridge student at Indian Creek. “(But) it feels good. I get to do fun things.

“I am ready for the fifth grade.”

The school districts will be watching to see just how much more prepared the summer students are this August.

“It’s normal across the country to see a drop in student measures from spring to fall,” said Ed Streich, the chief academic officer for Shawnee Mission. “We will measure to see if it did reduce gaps.”

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