Programs aim to close the summer learning gap

Let’s say two children attend kindergarten together and learn at about the same pace. At summer break, both have nine months of learning in their backpacks. One child has a library card, day camp and vacation planned — stimulating activities that support learning and build vocabulary equivalent to two months of instruction. The other child has limited access to books or summer activities and loses about one month of learning.

When those kids return to school for first grade, there is now a three-month gap in their learning. That gap can grow to three years by the end of fifth grade. Without summer learning opportunities that enrich knowledge and vocabulary, too many kids will fall further behind.

The Summer Learning Collaborative is part of the Graduate Tacoma movement to help students achieve success from cradle to college and career. We are working to narrow the summer learning gap and help all kids retain what they’ve learned.

Closing the gap in summer learning is also important in helping all children read at or above grade level by third grade. Students who fall behind by third grade are four times less likely to graduate on time. That’s why United Way of Pierce County and the Foundation for Tacoma Students have teamed up with more than 20 community partners on the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

Together, we’ve set ambitious goals to boost participation in quality summer learning by 25 percent by 2017 and improve access to books for more students.

It takes the whole community — parents, educators, all of us — working together to make lasting changes. That’s why we’re taking action and calling on parents and caring adults throughout the community to share in this important responsibility for all Tacoma children.

It’s free to join the Tacoma Public Library or Pierce County Library summer reading programs and earn prizes. For students in the sixth-grade range, reading at least five grade-level books in summer maintains reading skills. For first- and second-graders, it’s 12 books over the summer. If children are too young to read, an adult or older child can read to them; libraries also offer storytimes.

If you can’t make it to the library, grab a newspaper and read articles together. Read signs in the grocery story with your child, or pamphlets at the doctor’s office.

Summer learning can happen in a forest, studio, theater or park. SummerLearningTacoma.org is a new resource for parents, students and teachers. The site lists more than 150 educational, recreation, arts and leadership opportunities — searchable by grade level, activity, dates and location.

For example, preschool and elementary age kids can explore math at Lego camp, learn science at the zoo, go back in history at Fort Nisqually or perform at a local theater. Middle and high school students can study at a college, make glass art, be junior counselors or retrieve high school credits.

Most sponsoring organizations offer scholarships and sliding scale fees for families in need.

SummerLearningTacoma.org provides a jump-start at finding good websites for reading, math, technology and science activities. Little kids can improve their literacy skills through games at PBSkids.org, while their older siblings learn computer programming at Learn.Code. org. Tacoma Public Schools offers online math resources on the TacomaSchools.org website, and both Tacoma and Pierce County libraries offer virtual tutoring.

Tacoma Public Schools also offers four-day transition camps Aug. 18-21 for preschool students moving to kindergarten, sixth-graders entering middle school, and ninth-graders entering high school. Parents and caring adults can prepare kids for school transition just by talking and answering their questions about upcoming changes.

It’s about increasing access, opportunities and achievement for every child, working together as one community, and supporting students from cradle to college and career. Together we will narrow the gap in summer learning loss and help prepare all students for success in school and life.

The Summer Learning Collaborative is committed to curbing summer learning loss as part of the Graduate Tacoma movement to help students achieve success. To volunteer or contribute to summer scholarships, just link to participating organizations at SummerLearningTacoma.org or email info@SummerLearning Tacoma.org

Holly Bamford Hunt is a Foundation for Tacoma Students board member. Nola Renz is community impact manager for Early Grade Excellence, United Way of Pierce County.