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Sand Castles and Year Long Learning

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Since it’s the middle of summer, I want to share my fondest beach memory: building sand castles with my friends.  Despite being such a fond experience, the final product of our arduous, passionate efforts was a satisfaction too short lived.  We would turn our attention to something else only to return a few minutes later and see our castle be damaged with towers flattened and fortresses washed away by other factors beyond our control: the wind, the ocean, or most frustratingly, an inconsiderate grown-up.  What I ultimately realized is that building sand castles can be characterized as a vicious, never-ending cycle. Get excited, gather your friends, build a castle, stand by helplessly as parts of your castle inevitably fall apart, repeat.  As I write this I’m becoming increasingly uncertain as to what exactly made building these castles such a fond memory.

The same issues I faced as an amateur castle builder are some of the same ones faced by teachers nationwide.  In my first two years as a teacher, I have seen teachers help their students make extremely impressive gains, to the tune of 1.5 years of academic growth in one school year.  However, the harsh reality is that during the summer, when many of our students are away from school, many become victims to something known as Summer Learning Loss.  According to studies by the National Summer Learning Association the average student LOSES about two to three months in math.  This statistics get worse when speaking about students from low-income household, who lose about two to three months reading ability between the summer months.  To put it in perspective:  by the time a student from a low-income household finishes 5th grade, he or she will have lost a school year’s worth of math and reading skills.  While sand castles fall victim to a cruel cycle, we cannot have the same expectations for our children.

This summer three other teachers and I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Teacher-Community Involvement Initiatve (TCII) launched at Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center (LACC).  Long titles and acronyms aside, this program works with approximately 200 Latino and African-American kids in grades Pre-K to 7, focusing on leadership strategies and reading enhancement for the children.  Most of our emphasis has been placed into starting a buddy reading program where older students read to younger children and then provide the younger student with different types of assessments to ensure comprehension of the book.  The older kids have surprised me with the ownership they have taken of the program, asking me if they can read to more kids each day, coming up with their own different types of assessments, and sometimes even reading to older people at the LACC.  The same voices that at the beginning of our initiative were clamoring for TV time and offering “I hate reading!” proclamations have dwindled away and have been replaced by the vigor and enthusiasm of pre-teens providing a screeching halt to these Summer Learning Loss statistics for kids all around the LACC.

I strongly feel that programs like these can offer our children an opportunity to break the cycle of summer learning loss that so many of them have been victims to. While surely some will argue that students also need time to relax and play, five hours of reading a week will absolutely allow them to do all that.  Not only are they given the opportunity to improve their reading but they are also becoming better citizens in the process.  Sounds way better than building sand castles to me. 

To learn more about Summer Learning Loss and expanded learning time, click here.

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