BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Summer Learning Loss is a serious issue and one that’s been making national headlines lately. Studies have shown that many students lose about two months in math skills over the summer and low-income children lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
That’s why education officials across the country are stressing the importance of keeping kids engaged over the summer. And one summer camp program in the Birmingham area is doing just that. The program takes place at Glen Iris Elementary School. The camp primarily serves, low-income African American children and is a collaborative effort between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Better Basics, a non-profit children’s literacy organization. And these organizations are working together to make sure their kids learn and have fun at the same time.
The program at Glen Iris is unique. Campers get to experience two quality programs, all in the same day.
“We are working in conjunction with UAB, who puts on a summer program here at Glen Iris,” says Ellen Dover, Aftercare Program Coordinator for Better Basics at Glen Iris Elementary. “They provide the morning education and then we come in, in the afternoon, and do an enrichment program that kinds of builds off what UAB does in the morning. And we focus on reading and writing, and then we also have mathematics and one of our focuses this summer is fitness and nutrition.”
Both UAB and Better Basics have the same goal in mind: making sure their campers are well prepared for the upcoming school year. And according to researchers at The Center For Summer Learning, effective summer enrichment programs like these, lead to higher attendance and achievement during the school year, increased motivation and engagement, and increased skill development.
“The longer you can have a child engaged in activities in the form such as we have here at Glen Iris, then I think the longer they’ll be able to retain what they’ve learned,” says Dover. “And that’s what we want to prevent, we want to prevent the loss from the end of the school year to what they’ve retained at the beginning of the next school year.”
And camp instructors say the best way to prevent summer learning loss is to make lesson plans that are engaging and fun.
“We do a combination of learning activities and we do fun activities,” says Amy Ross, Summer Program Instructor at Glen Iris Elementary. “So it’s important that you mix fun in with learning so that they can get the full benefit and that they really enjoy what they’re doing.”
“If the children are engaged, if they’re doing things that they enjoy, they’re gonna want to do more,” says Dover. “They don’t realize they’re learning just like you said. They want to sit down and if they have been on a field trip, for example, and they come back and they can write about it. That’s their own experience. It’s not… tell me what you would do, if you did this. This is them writing what they did and sharing their experiences with their classmates, they can take it home and share it with their parents. And that’s a child learning and blooming at the same time.”
And the campers have been able to go on a number of field trips this summer. Trips are based around certain lesson plans and for their lesson about transportation— camp instructors had a couple of exciting places to take them.
The program is funded by the Belk Foundation and is completely free for students and parents.
“There are a lot of camps out there that are for a charge and there are a lot of camps that are out there just for the children to have fun,” says Dover. But when you can combine learning and fun for the kids and you can do it in a way that’s economical for the families, I think that’s essential that we do that so we have the education continue through the summer.”
And whether it’s through this program or another, Dover hopes more parents and students will take advantage of the services available during the summertime.