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As the new school year approaches, teachers have come to expect that many of their students will have forgotten some of what they learned earlier. It's called summer learning loss, and some teachers believe it's inevitable. Are they right?
Special correspondent for education John Merrow of Learning Matters reports.
SARAH PISANO, Springboard Teacher:
Everyone, turn to page three, please.
The traditional educator's remedy for summer learning loss is more of the same, more hours and more days of classes and, of course, summer school.
Now we're on page four.
But suppose there is another solution.
Good morning, Springboard families. Please sign in.
What if schools enlisted family members as partners to help teach the children? That's what's happening here at Russell Byers Charter School in Philadelphia. For five weeks this summer, Sarah Pisano helps 6- and 7-year-olds get better at reading.
We are going to talk about our new reading tip, which is making predictions.
While also teaching their parents or other family members ways they could help.
We are coaches. OK? I'm a coach when they're here and you're their coach when you're at home.
The parents come in on Wednesday mornings. And whatever skills we have been working on in class, I get to not only share that with the parents, but then have them practice it with the child.
Just to look at this one for an example.
Pisano passes along techniques parents can use to get their kids interested in books.
If we were looking at the picture, I would ask them first, what do you see?
The overlying arch of all of the workshops is asking effective questions while you're reading with your child.
Taking what she calls picture walks is one technique. Before reading, look at the pictures and talk about them.
Hey, let's look at this traffic light. Which one of those colors do we see on there?
She also teaches parents techniques for sounding out words.
Can you practice the word sofa for me? Ready and go.
Amani Addison's father, Christopher, joined her every Wednesday for the one-hour parent workshop.
What did they say, they're going to make you teachers?
Well, it was like a partnership. I guess it was a learning process for me and my daughter.
ALEJANDRO GAC-ARTIGAS, Springboard Collaborative:
The love a parent has for their child is the single greatest and most underutilized natural resource in education.
Alejandro Gac-Artigas is the Founder of Springboard Collaborative, the nonprofit organization that manages this summer reading program. Springboard serves kindergarten through third graders in low-income communities. This summer, it operated in 17 schools in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.
The program was inspired by Gac-Artigas' discovery in October 2009, just two months into his teaching career, that his first graders had lost ground over the summer.
I had assumed, as a first grade teacher without a scrap of confidence, that I was somehow un-teaching and damaging these children.
So, and I go to other teachers and I ask, what is going on? Why are they further behind? And everybody told me in this really matter-of-fact way, that's just the summer slide. They spoke about it as if it were inevitable, that growing up poor, for every two steps forward you take during the year, you are going to take one step back.
But Gac-Artigas, a 21-year-old rookie unschooled in the conventional wisdom about summer slide, didn't buy it.
And, ultimately, I began to realize that summer learning loss is a symptom of an even deeper problem, which is that low-income parents have been left out of the process of educating their kids. We approached their families as liabilities, rather than as assets.
Determined to test his belief that parents and teachers should be partners, Gac-Artigas quit teaching and raised enough money for a pilot program in 2012. The results were promising and Springboard was launched.
We had 94 percent of parents attend every single weekly workshop, learn how to teach their kids to read at home. Kids ended up not only avoiding the three-month regression, but making 2.8 months of reading progress during the summer.
According to Gac-Artigas, the second year produced equally positive results.
By tracking our kids over the course of a full calendar year, we have more than doubled their annual reading progress.
Springboard Collaborative just finished its third summer. The schools select the students and assign teachers from their own staff to teach the classes. Springboard trains the teachers and manages the program, charging fees of up to $550 a student.
Making parents and teachers partners, giving parents reading strategies they can use at home, this may be unconventional, but according to these families, it works.
Do you find you actually use these strategies at home?
Yes, we do always.
You both said, yes, yes.
Yes, we do.
Yes. Yes, we do.
Because — it helps because we try to use our old strategies that we had. They're like, dad, we don't do that no more.
Look at the picture. Look at the picture if you don't know it. Look.
I have never been in a partnership like this before. It's given me a lot to take back and teach my other grandchildren.
It's also helped Amani Addison. After her second year with Springboard, she has become a much better reader.
She was struggling a lot with letter sounds. And what I noticed the most about her was, it was really hindering her confidence. She came back this year, and it is a different kid. The confidence she has is unbelievable.
In addition to reading together, the program encourages parents to let the kids see them reading on their own.
Right now, I'm reading a book about Obama. I haven't read in a long time, so it was kind of actually fun for me to pick up a book and start reading, too.
This is something fun that we have been doing in class.
Gac-Artigas hopes to expand Springboard beyond the current number of schools and even offer it as a year-round program, but he face as tough challenges.
If I'm a school principal watching the program, maybe I say, hey, you know, I could do most of this stuff. I don't have to bother with Springboard. Would that be OK with you?
It would be fine with me. I want our national conversation around education to include families. Whether or not that includes Springboard is secondary. I want it to include families.
The reality, though, is that we have been able to amass kind of institutional knowledge about how to do this effectively in a way that most principals don't want to worry about it at the end of a long school year.
Nevertheless, Russell Byers' new principle says the school may be better served by dropping Springboard. She told the NewsHour the school may run its own program next year to reach more students and cover more subjects, not just reading.
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