Guest column: Don’t get carried away by the slide | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Don’t get carried away by the slide

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

Ever heard of the "summer slide?"

It's something we've all experienced: the learning loss that children suffer during summer break when they're not attending classes. Research has shown most students lose about two months worth of mathematical computation skills during summer, and low-income students can lose roughly the same amount in reading competency despite the fact that their middle-class peers often make slight gains.

Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their kids are productively engaged. And because the academic slippage is more pronounced in lower-income groups, it aggravates the "achievement gaps" that already divide children of different economic, ethnic and demographic classes and contributes to lower graduation rates and college-admission rates.

Fortunately, we have two local nonprofits, among others, that work to diminish the academic backsliding that occurs during summer break.

The Summer Advantage USA program works to counter the summer slide by providing five weeks of academic and life-enrichment activities to disadvantaged students. Locally, the nonprofit organization Summit 54 works with the Roaring Fork School District to bring Summer Advantage to between 750 and 950 students in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The students range from kindergarteners to fourth-graders and are identified during the regular school year as those who most need the summer boost. Their parents attend a mandatory orientation meeting in the spring and volunteer in the classroom and on field trips, as well.

Independent consultants have confirmed that Summer Advantage delivers impressive results. Instead of losing academic skills between spring and fall, Summer Advantage scholars experience the opposite: a gain of approximately two months. This equates to much less time spent on remedial learning in September.

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Working in a similar vein, the Boost Camp program began four years ago in the Garfield Re-2 School District to provide learning and life-skills opportunities for kids in New Castle, Silt and Rifle during summer. An early project of the Aspen Community Foundation's Cradle to Career Initiative that is now run by the nonprofit ACCESS Roaring Fork, Boost Camp provides four weeks of low-cost programming to roughly 130 children from first to fifth grade. The programs focus specifically on literacy, STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), health and creativity.

Mindi Cabe, program director for ACCESS Roaring Fork, reports 98 percent satisfaction from Boost Camp's annual parent survey. The kids focus mostly on academics in the morning, while afternoons are more active, with everything from dance to tennis to art projects and field trips.

The Re-2 teachers who lead the classes report that "the students who attend Boost Camp are not only academically ready to start the school year, but they are also mentally and emotionally prepared," Cabe said.

Summer is a wonderful time of year, especially in the central Rocky Mountains, but to avoid the summer slide, we all should remember to encourage kids to keep engaged with reading, numbers and healthy activities.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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