LEWISTON — Before 8 a.m. Monday, big yellow school buses rolled throughout Lewiston with students on board.

It’s back to school in July. Monday was the opening day of expanded summer learning programs at Montello, Farwell, Longley and McMahon elementary schools, and Lewiston Middle and High schools.

About 1,200 students — 22 percent of the city’s student population — are participating in a summer program, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

The goal is to prevent “lose-what-you-don’t-use,” or learning loss during the long summer. The new summer programs are different than traditional summer school in that they’re not for making up credit, but to keep students from sliding.

Outside Montello school Monday, Steve Maroon monitored students as they climbed off buses. He’s Montello’s extended learning supervisor.

Teachers greeted students at the door.

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The cafeteria was bustling. Youngsters picked up small packages of cold cereal, milk and juice for breakfast. With 280 students in the cafeteria, it almost seemed like a normal day.

After breakfast it was time for class.

In one first-grade room, two Miss Cloutiers — Ashley and Vicky — will share the summer teaching job. Their educational technician is Bates College student Anna Sucsy.

Sitting in a circle, each student took turns saying their name and favorite color. They listened as Vicky Cloutier read the day’s message.

“Today is Monday and our first day of Summer Explorers. I am so excited to have you all here with me! What kind of things do you think we will do and learn at summer explorers? Love, Miss Cloutier, Miss Cloutier and Anna.”

Students talked about coloring, reading, writing, playing outside and singing the ABC song. “Our theme is going to be plants,” Ashley Cloutier said.

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In a nearby hall, Maroon did some opening-day troubleshooting, reassigning children to the right classroom or right school.

A few showed up who weren’t registered. “We got that straightened out, now they can start learning,” Maroon said.

In its second year, Montello’s summer program is at capacity and has a waiting list, which Maroon considers a success. The number of enrollments grew by 40 this year.

“Word gets out,” Principal Jim Cliffe said. “A lot of adults think every kid wants to go home for the summer. That’s not true for all kids. School is a safe place for kids. They like being here.”

The summer program is different than the regular school year. It’s five weeks long and has a shorter day, 8 a.m. to noon. Class sizes are smaller, 15 students instead of 22 or 23. The atmosphere is informal.

Learning will be more hands-on with activities in science, gardening, nutrition and exploring through nature. There’ll be weekly field trips, reinforcing lessons, to the Whiting Farm, Pineland Farms, the Gray Animal Park, Reid State Park, Crescent Beach, Fort Williams and the Botanical Gardens.

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Maroon, who taught fifth grade before being named extended learning supervisor, said when students return in the fall, some have read at home and participated in enriching activities. Those students retain the skills they had when they left school in June.

“But a lot of our students do not read at home, nor do they have a lot of experiences. Those are the ones who slide back,” Maroon said. “When they enter school in the fall, every year the gap gets bigger.”

Five years ago, Lewiston piloted a summer learning program for 100 students. The program has grown.

Still, “I would like to double the number of students,” Webster said. “Our own, as well as national research, shows students who do not have meaningful summer educational experiences lose the equivalent of two months of instruction.” For those students, Webster said, it takes until November until they’re back where they were in June.

What’s stopping more is funding, especially in transportation, Webster said. The bulk of the programs are grant funded, the largest provided by John T. Gorman Foundation, a federal school improvement grant and a Schools for the 21st Century grant.

Lewiston is fortunate to have support from the Gorman Foundation, Webster said. To meet the needs of more students, the city would have to increase local funding.

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Research shows summer slide significant

AUGUSTA – What Lewiston schools are doing to prevent summer learning loss “is tremendous,” said a Maine Department of Education literacy expert.

It’s wonderful whenever school systems or local communities can provide summer programs for students,” said literacy specialist Lee Anne Larson. There is a need for such programs, especially among poorer students.

“It’s well documented there’s considerable learning loss in the summer.”

Students who aren’t engaged in meaningful activities in the summer lose between one to three months of instructional learning, Larson said. “Kids can make tremendous gains throughout the school year.” But when students return in the fall, teachers have to figure out who’s where. “It’s very challenging.”

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Summer learning loss is more pronounced for youngsters who live in poverty, she said. Students from middle income households are more likely to read and be read to, travel and attend a summer program, Larson said.

A 2009 study, “Why Summer Matters in the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap” by Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Frazen, calls on the need for more attention, saying the solution isn’t complicated.

 

Summer reading loss accounts for at least 80 percent of the reading achievement gap by the ninth grade, yet no federal or state initiatives had targeted summer as key to closing the gap, the research found.

The MDOE recently added a Summer Literacy Learning section to the Literacy for ME webpage for parents and community members, and the  State Literacy Team will focus on the need for programs like Lewiston’s in the coming year.

Parents whose children don’t have access to programs can combat summer learning loss by reading every day with their children, experts say.


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