Summer Learning Academies help students prepare

By Lance Arney

Posted with permission of the Herald-Tribune Media Group

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For most children, summer is a vacation from school. However, for some children summer can also mean the absence of structured learning opportunities, causing a “summer slide” as they lose learning gains made during the school year and return in the fall behind their peers.

Children from low-income families are most vulnerable to summer slide because their parents cannot afford or access the same kinds of educational resources, programs and activities as middle- and upper-income families. “As a result,” concludes the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, “they experience well-documented setbacks in academic skills that contribute to growth in the achievement gap.” Research shows that low-income children can lose up to two months of reading achievement during the summer.

Due to disparities in resources and opportunities for learning, the achievement gap begins before kindergarten. “By age 3, children from wealthier families typically have heard 30 million more words than children from low-income families,” notes a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With exposure to fewer words, most children from low-income families enter kindergarten behind their peers and less prepared for school.

To address the dual issues of disparities in kindergarten readiness and summer slide for our local children, the Sarasota County School District started Summer Learning Academies (SLAs) at Alta Vista, Emma E. Booker, Gocio and Tuttle — four elementary schools where more than 90 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

This six-week academic and enrichment summer program is offered at no cost to parents, thanks to funding by the district, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and partner organizations.

When the SLAs were first implemented, the goal was merely to prevent summer learning loss. But at Alta Vista, where the SLA model began in 2012, not only did SLAs prevent summer slide and help students become more prepared for school, but some grade-level cohorts of SLA students made learning gains.

SCOPE, in partnership with the school district and Community Foundation, looked at the impact of last year’s SLAs on the reading performance of students.

With data provided by the district, SCOPE analyzed the students’ reading scores from iReady Diagnostic, an assessment used by the schools to track academic growth and performance.

We found that kindergartners who participated in the SLAs, at all four schools, on average scored higher than kindergartners at these schools who did not participate. The SLA students achieved the equivalent of the academic growth that would occur with 6.4 weeks of reading instruction.

Furthermore, we see a pattern of academic growth in reading for students participating in SLAs at Alta Vista, where, in 2016, the academies were available for students entering kindergarten up to third grade. First-graders and third-graders in the SLAs at Alta Vista on average achieved the equivalent of approximately 4.5 and 4 weeks, respectively, of academic growth in reading. Second-graders were a particularly high-performing cohort: On average, they achieved 34.3 weeks of growth.

SLAs also have had a positive impact on overall school readiness. School principals and teachers report that their SLA kindergartners started the school year more confident and familiar with school routines.

It’s easy to see why SLAs have been so successful.

The SLAs engage students with instructional time devoted to reading and math. Students get breakfast and lunch, receive free books, and participate in hands-on learning activities devoted to art, science, and social- and emotional-skill development. Field trips take them to Mote Marine Laboratory, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, South Florida Museum, Riverview Planetarium, and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. And the students’ parents are students themselves in Parent University classes that help them become more engaged in their children’s learning.

At Alta Vista, students entering kindergarten to grade three are eligible to attend. Now in its second year at Emma E. Booker, Gocio, and Tuttle, all students entering kindergarten and first grade are eligible. A total of 501 students are enrolled in the SLAs this summer, with almost as many parents attending Parent University classes.

The fact that the Summer Learning Academies produced measurable improvements across four different sites (Alta Vista, Emma E. Booker, Gocio and Tuttle), as well as four different grade levels (at Alta Vista), shows that these models are already making a positive impact on academic achievement.

As we continue to monitor results, we hope to build on these models and identify the students in our community who need them the most. The results so far are great, but increasing participation is key to making an even greater impact.

Lance Arney is interim executive director of SCOPE and a research consultant to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. He holds a doctorate in applied anthropology from the University of South Florida.


Tryon: Roots of the Age-Friendly Festival

By Tom Tryon 
Opinion editor, Sarasota Herald Tribune

posted with permission of the Herald-Tribune Media Group

Aging takes time.

So does sustainable change.

And, like most things in life, the effort to enhance our community’s response to an aging population has taken time to develop. It has also required taking risks, accepting evolution rather than expecting revolution, and learning from mistakes.

On Saturday, the first Age-Friendly Festival in the nation will be conducted in Sarasota. The event at the Sarasota Fairgrounds will signify a watershed moment — an evolutionary movement that has been led by The Patterson Foundation for eight years yet was germinated by other community organizations, including SCOPE.

“One could say the roots of the festival trace back to SCOPE,” stated Debra Jacobs, president and chief executive of The Patterson Foundation.

In 2009, SCOPE — Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence — completed a community-based study that resulted in a comprehensive report entitled “Aging: The Possibilities.”

The study was shaped by a public-input process that commenced in 2005 with community assemblies, progressed in 2007 into an annual series of Winter Forums on Aging — featuring local and national experts — and eventually was built into Age-Friendly Sarasota.

The years of research and community conversations resulted in two overarching conclusions: Sarasota County and the surrounding region are at the forefront of a worldwide shift in age-related demographics that affect economics, social structures and personal well-being; an aging population provides as many, if not more, opportunities than challenges.

Thus, also in 2009, Aging with Dignity and Independence was selected as one of the Sarasota-based Patterson Foundation’s legacy initiatives.

The Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative is a countywide effort, according to the foundation, “to promote active, engaged, and healthy living for people of all ages.” Among the goals are to learn about the aspirations of the community and its individuals in how they can live well at any age.

More than 500 communities across the globe have launched such initiatives as part of a network sponsored by the World Health Organization and promoted domestically by AARP.

The Patterson Foundation provided its financial resources, vast web of social connections and leadership to help Sarasota County in 2015 become Florida’s first Age-Friendly community.

The Age-Friendly Festival will feature speakers, engagement exercises and exhibitors — all aimed at improving the quality of life for residents of all ages because, as the work so far has demonstrated, communities that make accommodations for older adults are likely to appeal to children and families.

Think about affordable housing and living options that can accommodate multiple generations. Think about parks and civic spaces that are easily accessible to older folks on walkers as well as moms with babies in strollers. Think about alternatives to driving (the nonprofit Independent Transportation Network offers low-cost rides for elderly adults but it needs more volunteers and funding; there is no similar program for teens with working parents).

Our communities don’t have enough of these features. They are among the things that progressive communities should pursue.

Fortunately, a lot of the thinking has been done. It has taken time to get from “there” to “here” but the expenditure of resources and energy has moved the community to this point.

The Age-Friendly Festival provides an opportunity to explore how process can lead to progress. More than 125 organizations will participate Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event is open to the public, free of charge. For information:

Tom Tryon is opinion editor, and chairman of SCOPE’s volunteer board of directors

What do young people need?

Originally published in the Herald Tribune

Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE) has partnered with the Positive Youth Development Council to help develop a community-wide plan for children and youths. Local organization leaders have determined that developing a research-based, county-wide plan will allow our communities to make better decisions about addressing the needs of children and youths in Sarasota County.

SCOPE is in the process of gathering data through a gaps-and-needs assessment that will provide a foundation on which to build the plan. We are asking adults and teenagers in Sarasota County to take our needs-assessment survey. The links to surveys are on our website, with versions in both English and Spanish:

The initiative is being funded by Sarasota County and supported by dozens of youth-related nonprofit organizations, many of whom have representatives serving on the Leadership Committee, which is guiding the development of the plan.

As part of the needs assessment, we have so far conducted 12 focus groups, mostly with children and youths throughout the county. It’s amazing what we have learned by listening to young people. One of the questions we ask in our focus groups is: What do you wish adults understood about you?

“They need to understand that we’re trying,” said one young participant at the Laurel Civic Association. Another participant from the Triad Alternative School at the YMCA responded: “We go through different things than they did when they were our age.” These focus groups have given us insight into young people’s issues and challenges, what they like about their communities and their aspirations for the future.

We’ve also been conducting interviews with subject-matter experts. We have had 46 (and counting) in-depth interviews with leaders of organizations specializing in early learning, mental health care, juvenile justice, homelessness and other fields so that we can combine that knowledge to tell a story that would not be revealed by quantitative data and statistics alone.

Despite the variety of perspectives of subject-matter experts, almost all of them agree: We must start investing in children earlier in order to prevent more dire and expensive consequences later on.

Consider this statistic mentioned by one of our experts: The most expensive 10 to 15 children in the child welfare system cost a cumulative $1 million per year. The same expert notes that, according to a national study, for every dollar spent on prevention, $18 are saved.

We ask all of our subject-matter experts what they think can be done to address the needs of children and youths. At the end of the process we will summarize their responses and, along with other data and information, they will be used by the Leadership Committee to determine the recommendations, strategies and action steps that go into the plan.

The surveys for adults and teenagers are the last leg of our needs-assessment process. The surveys will allow us to get input from parents, teachers, service providers, and other community members.

So far we have received over 200 responses to our adult survey, and over 100 responses to our teen survey. With the help of community members and organizational leaders, we hope to get many more by the end of the month. The findings from our needs assessment will be made available through our website by August