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June 11, 2015

Tackling Summer Learning Loss in Manatee and Sarasota Counties

Summer. Sun-kissed shoulders, kickball games, bubble-stuff, corn-on-the-cob, and the sound of the ice-cream truck trolling down my street after dinner are a few of the images that spring into my head when I hear the word.

Lately, though, a more startling thought pops into my mind at the mention of summer: learning loss.

National statistics show us that low-income students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer while their middle-income peers tend to make slight gains in reading. This summer learning loss means that many low-income students are two to two-and-a-half years behind in reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

What can be done in Sarasota and Manatee counties to prevent summer learning loss? That is a question being addressed by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and being tackled nationally by the Campaign’s network of more than 168 communities. The school systems of Sarasota and Manatee counties and a myriad of concerned community organizations and citizens are all part of the effort, and there are many answers emerging:

1) Increasing access to books for low-income students

2) Reading four to six books over the summer can help stymy learning loss. Even more exciting, allowing students to select their own books, according to their interests, helps prevent learning loss and helps develop life-long readers.

3) Expanding access to healthy summer meals, safe places to play and health and nutrition information makes a difference. We are fortunate there is access to summer nutrition for children in Sarasota and Manatee counties as we know summer is a challenging time, especially for children who are on free or reduced lunch programs during the school year.

4) Studies show 6-week summer learning programs can produce significant gains in reading performance

5) Reading just 20 minutes (or more) with a child in your life is a great way to take action and is being supported by the United Way of Manatee County in partnership with United Way Suncoast through the Summertastic Reading Pledge.

The National Summer Learning Association provides additional tools and resources for organizations and families.

In our local community, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County is involved in several projects making “measurable progress” on summer learning outcomes for students in four attendance zones –with emphasis on Alta Vista Elementary School, Gocio Elementary School, Tuttle Elementary School, and Emma E. Booker Elementary School.

There is more work to be done and more children who need the assistance of a caring community. Making a lasting difference will require efforts from every sector of our community — business, government, nonprofits, media and citizens. Through the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, our community is well on its way to creating new realities for all our children.

photo credit: Happy Girl Hopscotch in Strawberry Free Creative Commons via photopin (license)

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