This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
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Too much downtime this summer could prove to be a major detriment to Philadelphia’s students when they return to classes in fall.
Summer learning loss, often nicknamed "summer slide," is a nationwide phenomenon that affects children, especially from kindergarten to 4th grade. Over the summer months, they lose reading and math skills that they learned during the school year, and in the fall, they return to their studies having fallen behind.
Not having a coordinated effort to address this — and so not having children reach their full potential — "of course it affects that child the most, it affects that family the most," said Vicki Ellis, the School District’s liaison with the city.
But eventually, she added, "It affects our entire city, the workforce, and our neighborhoods."
This summer, the District, city agencies and community organizations are launching a coordinated series of programs through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, with the goal of attacking summer learning loss head-on.
For instance, 21 of the city’s Department of Recreation summer camps will incorporate more structured literacy and math activities into their daily programs, said Hedra Packman, the former deputy director of the Free Library who is serving as a consultant for the initiative. The library has been training the camp counselors.
In addition, other programs that already had a literacy component "are now being intentional about what they do so they are addressing summer learning loss," Packman said. "And programs that have never done literacy are trying to incorporate it with that in mind."
In all, she said, the pilot programs will reach some 4,500 children from kindergarten through 4th grade.
"This summer programming can mitigate summer learning loss," said Ellis. "It’s very, very important, and everybody has a role to play."
The Boys and Girls Club, Philadelphia Reads, the Out-of-School Time Resource Center, the Philadelphia Free Library, the Parks and Recreation Department, Springboard Collaborative, and the Philadelphia Eagles are just a few of more than 60 organizations who are partnering with the District.
Many students, especially in low-income communities, "tend to lose touch with learning and forget a lot of things they have learned before, especially things they haven’t mastered," said Adrienne Jacoby, executive director of Philadelphia Reads. "They lose two to three months in the summertime, and that’s a major problem."
Packman said that the plan is to evaluate the various pilots and determine which programs have been most successful and why. The campaign plans to track the students’ May and October test scores, and compare the results of participants to the scores of students who were not part of one of the pilots.
The 2013 scores of the National Assessment for Educational Progress Research shows that barely a third of fourth graders in America are reading proficiently and only about 20 percent of low-income fourth graders have reached proficiency. Students who do not reach this milestone are more likely to fall behind academically and drop out later on.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has a goal of at least doubling the number of children from low-income families reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade in at least a dozen states by the year 2020.
The Notebook is tracking the progress of this initiative throughout the summer with a grant from the Samuel L. Fels Fund. “Summer lost: Stopping the slide” is planned as a multi-media series to run weekly through August, highlighting a theme or program relating to this initiative. Subscribe to the Notebook’s YouTube & Vimeo channels to see all of the Summer Lost episodes. Follow Dorian Geiger on Twitter.