Local Programs Aim To Stop The 'Summer Slide'

Originally published on August 27, 2015 11:17 am

Students are about to return to their classrooms after a long summer break. One thing their teachers are all wondering: how much did they forget over the vacation?

Studies have shown kids can lose more than two months of math alone every summer. To stop that from happening, Rhode Island teamed up with a group of businesses to create a program called the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative.

In a workshop at Providence’s Career and Technical High School, designer Rochelle Crosby helps 14-year-old Cristain Lopez find the perfect size screw to hold together a human-size bird nest.

Crosby and Lopez build the nest as part of a design for a preschool playground. Fifteen-year-old Alexis Batista described how they used tree branches to make the structure.

“We put the bigger ones at the bottom so it can have a nice base,” said Batista. “The ones at the top, they’re holding everything together along with the rope. And we chose rope because if we just left it, it would probably fall apart.”

The idea of the project is the students pick a design problem, then, they have to use skills like measuring and critical thinking to find the solution. Designer Rochelle Crosby said it’s been a learning experience for her too.

“It’s really interesting to see how there is a collaborative element possible at any age range,” Crosby said. “They are 14/15-years-old, I am double that age, and I am still able to learn from them.”

Crosby works for DownCity design, a non-profit based in Providence. The company’s founder, Adrianne Gagnon, helped organize two of the summer programs. They’re aimed at keeping kids' minds active, so they hold onto more of the facts and figures they learn during the school year. Gagnon explained the goal was to make them fun too.

“They feel like summer camps,” Gagnon said. “The kids are having a great time. They are learning, but they are learning about things that they care about, in an environment that feels authentic and supportive.”

The Hasbro Initiative ran 18 programs like Gagnon’s this year at locations around the state. To find out whether they were having an impact, they tested students in reading and math at the beginning of the summer, and again at the end of the summer.

“The average gains state-wide have been really remarkable,” said Sandi Connors, who represents the United Way of Rhode Island, another nonprofit involved in the program.

Connors said the testing showed the students not only retained their learning from the school year, but made significant gains.

“Kids on average are moving forward 35% in their literacy skills and 47% in their math skills,” Connors said, skills the students will  need when they return to school in September.

As students put the final touches on their bird nest, 14-year-old Cristian Lopez said he got a lot out of the project.

“You get to learn the tools, you get to learn how to communicate with other people, with friends,” said Lopez. “You’re also helping out people, so it’s not like you’re doing something for yourself.”

Two days later at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center, the students presented their final designs.  Watching from the audience, Parent Taesha Darden observed the program helped her son stay focused during the summer.

“Focused on other things other than hanging out with his friends," said Darden. "And it keeps him off the streets and doing something constructive with his life."

Organizers for the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative want to keep more kids off the street, so they can pick right up where they left off when they get back to school. For next year, they hope to find funding for a stipend to offer students who would otherwise need a summer job. 

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