Combating the Summer Slide-A Community Effort
When I asked students at Confluence Academy, a charter school in Saint Louis City, the age-old question, “What are you doing this summer?” most responded with, “Chillin’.”
On the makeshift survey I had passed out to students on the last day of school, they scribbled answers such as “nothing” or “hanging out” in the blank spaces. Where I had asked, “How many hours do you plan to read this summer?” most didn’t bother, not even to write a zero. One student read the question out loud and laughed to herself. Another crinkled the paper into a ball.
“We’re in the neighborhood. We’re seeing them out unsupervised, not really having a whole lot to do,” said Beyond School Director Erin Malone.
Beyond School is one division of Mission: St. Louis, a local nonprofit in the Grove neighborhood. The organization provides fourth to eighth graders with year-round expanded learning opportunities, one of which is an eight-week summer program created to combat summer learning loss. Summer learning loss, or the “summer slide,” occurs when students from low-income communities experience little to no learning outside the academic year.
One study showed that more than half of the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. Partnering with Adams Elementary, Beyond School provides low-income students with math and reading instruction, as well as access to activities such as cross-fit, improv, and musical lessons. In the fall, Beyond School will begin a new partnership with the charter school South City Prep.
While Mission: St. Louis does not charge Adams Elementary and South City Prep for its services, the partnerships serve as an example of how organizations in the public and private sector can work together to fulfill educational needs in a low-income community.
Rising seventh-grader Christian is one of 22 students currently benefiting from the summer program. I had the opportunity to listen to her read If I Grow Up, a story about the challenges a young man faces as he grows up in the projects.
“The first year I tested our students, every single one of them was behind,” said Malone, a former teacher and reading specialist. “The kids literally just need to read. They need to read books they can understand and that they can have conversations about. That’s kind of just what we do.”
On average, students gain about five months in reading proficiency during their time in the program. This means the student will advance more than 60 percent of a school year within eight weeks. Compared to no gain or sliding backward, this is quite an accomplishment.
College students, retired community members, and even off-duty teachers volunteer as tutors. “It’s a community mentality. It’s not their kids, but our kids,” said Malone, who hopes to eventually expand the program into other schools.
“If you really want to eradicate poverty, this is one of the ways,” she said.