Summer-long program aimed at helping students catch up to peers
Kentucky School Advocate
By Jennifer Wohlleb
On a hot day in late June, you’d expect to find most students taking advantage of summer break, sleeping in, maybe going to the pool or even parking in front of the TV. For nearly 60 rising first, second and third grade students at Shepherdsville Elementary School, summer break was more like a long weekend before they headed back to the classroom.
These students are participating in a four-day-a-week literacy program aimed at keeping them on grade level. It is an extension of the Saturday school the district started at Shepherdsville in January, aimed at students in danger of being retained.
Bullitt County Schools Superintendent Keith Davis said for students who don’t start school ready to learn or who fall behind during the year, there is always going to be an achievement gap unless schools can give those students more time to learn.
“If we just give them more intensive instruction during the regular school day, that’s good, but we’re missing something,” he said. “… if a kid comes in a couple of grade levels behind when they get to our door, or they’re not kindergarten ready, they’re not going to magically get kindergarten ready or catch up to their peers who started ahead of them. Time has to be the variable; we have to give them more time.”
The district provides transportation for the summer program. In the morning, students in groups of 15-16 rotate through as many as four classrooms. The Bullitt County Family YMCA takes over in the afternoon, providing these students with additional learning opportunities. The entire program, including breakfast and lunch, is free.
“This Y program is a little bit different from a typical Y summer care program,” said Terry Price, Bullitt County’s director of elementary education. “What they try to do is follow up in the afternoon with some fun activities that reinforce the lessons they are getting in literacy. Every week they take a field trip (with the YMCA), a beneficial field trip, not to the pool or things like that; it’s all based on getting these kids out and experiencing things they may not, because that’s all part of that (summer learning) slide. If you have parents who can afford to get them to a museum or to a larger city, then even those kids are improving literacy.”
Shepherdsville Elementary Principal David Pate said the eight teachers involved in the Saturday and summer programs are highly qualified.
“And the kids were specifically hand-selected from those we knew needed extra services, but also, the parents had to agree to get them here (for Saturday school),” he said. “For them to give up three to four hours of their Saturday and to do that for several months in a row, that’s quite a commitment. And now summer, four days a week, Monday through Thursday for the entire summer. We started the Monday after school let out and students will have one full week off before school starts again. So literally, it’s an all-summer commitment.”
The Bullitt County Board of Education approved funding for the retention avoidance programs.
“As board members, we felt like that was a very important push,” said board member Dolores Ashby, who represents the Shepherdsville school. “I hope to see it expanded to other schools because I think every school has that core group of students who need that extra time. I think it’s a great way for us to spend our resources.”
Davis said if the program is successful, then the cost is nominal compared with the cost of doing nothing.
“A lot of the cost is transportation. I think we spent about $90,000 over the course of the spring and summer,” he said. “It’s not horrible, when you break it down per kid, and we’ll see what the data says … if we try things and it works, then we will save money over the course of these kids’ careers by not retaining them, because a lot of these type of students get retained a grade or two. And that means we spend an extra $8,000 or $10,000 on each one educating them over the course of their career – or more – and they’re going to drop out and they’re going to become a drag on society in general.”
Ashby, who worked at an elementary school for 25 years, said it is essential to provide students with a sound foundation.
“If we don’t do our jobs now, then what are these students’ lives going to be like when they become adults?” she asked. “You have to have that foundation that you get in elementary school and you build on it. We don’t want to send our kids to middle school and high school without the resources they need to build on.”