Tormohlen: Working to prevent ‘summer learning loss’ | AspenTimes.com

Tormohlen: Working to prevent ‘summer learning loss’

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

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

Recently we've devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we're speaking with Terri Caine, co-founder with her husband, Tony Caine, of Summit 54, a nonprofit organization that supports various Colorado educational initiatives. Summit 54's largest program is Summer Advantage, a collaboration with the Roaring Fork School District and the Mile High United Way Social Innovation Fund.

Aspen Community Foundation: What is Summer Advantage's mission, and whom does it serve locally?

Terri Caine: The Summit 54-sponsored Summer Advantage program is a free five-week academic and life-enrichment program for kindergarten through fourth-grade students in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The program includes breakfast, lunch, literacy, math and afternoon enrichments Monday through Thursday. Fun Fridays include inspirational speakers and field trips. Students also participate in a community-service project and visit a college campus each summer. We currently have more than 600 students enrolled in the program.

The mission of Summer Advantage is to harness the power of summer learning to raise the educational achievement of students. As a result of our five–year partnership with the Mile High United Way Social Innovation Fund and the Roaring Fork School District, we now have independent research that proves that the Summer Advantage program has resulted in significant academic gains.

ACF: How and why did this partnership begin?

TC: When my husband and I co-founded Summit 54, we wanted to contribute to our community. We wanted to fill a void without duplicating services or programs. At the time, there had been recent budget cuts within the Roaring Fork School District, resulting in the elimination of summer school. We had read a lot about summer learning loss and the negative impact long summer breaks can have, especially with low-income children. National statistics indicate that low-income children forget up to two months more school-related information than their middle-income peers during the summer break. This can result in as much as a 2.5-year achievement gap by fifth grade. With this knowledge, we began to research existing summer academic programs with proven track records of success.

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The principals and school board were very enthusiastic and wrote letters of support to accompany our application for the Mile High United Way Social Innovation Fund five-year grant that was part of a statewide effort to improve third-grade literacy rates.

ACF: Why is third-grade literacy such an important benchmark?

TC: From kindergarten through third grade, kids' focus in school is learning to read. Starting in fourth grade, 50 percent of what they're expected to learn is given to them in a written format. If they're not at grade level when they start fourth grade, they struggle to read the history, science and math word problems to complete their homework and succeed in school. When kids start to fall behind, they lose confidence in themselves and get discouraged. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between low third-grade literacy and high school dropout rates.

ACF: How is Summer Advantage a game-changer for kids?

TC: Seventy-six percent of our students are English-language learners, 85 percent are Hispanic, and 84 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at school. These families cannot afford summer camps for their children. Without a free summer program, many of these children would be left home alone while their parents are at work. Rather than spending their summer watching TV or playing video games, these children are having a blast and learning. They love the program. As a result, the kids are moving forward academically instead of falling behind.

Our independent research has found that when the Roaring Fork School District administers the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills standardized test in the fall, Summer Advantage participants are testing 14 percentage points higher than they did in the spring. That equates to our scholars moving from the 35th percentile nationally in the spring to the 49th percentile in the fall after only five weeks in the Summer Advantage program. That's huge.

ACF: Please describe the resources — teachers, equipment, dollars — it takes to make Summer Advantage possible.

TC: We have 600 children and a ratio of 10 students for every teacher. So, we have about 60 teachers and assistant teachers, plus a program manager, an assistant program manager and an office administrator at each of our three sites. In total, there are more than 70 staff members, not counting bus drivers or janitors.

We pay Summer Advantage $1,300 per child. That fee covers the cost of all salaries, the hiring and training of teachers, the curriculum, the assessments, materials, supplies and field trips. In addition, Summit 54 has additional costs associated with fundraising and research, so we raise and contribute about $800,000 annually for this program.

The Roaring Fork School District also provides tremendous resources including $100,000, use of facilities, bus transportation, janitorial services, utilities and office equipment. Most importantly, the district encourages its teachers to participate, and all district staff encourages our target families to enroll their children in the program.

ACF: Speaking personally, what are your favorite aspects of the program?

TC: I love this program because I see joy in children's faces as they're learning. I love the professional development that's available to teachers who participate. I love the parent engagement and empowerment that is built into the program. I love that the things students, teachers and parents are learning in the summer carry into the school year. And I love that we have such strong metrics of success.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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