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Summer School program helps students prevent summer slide

Summer school and fun sound like opposites of one another, but for 115 Troup County elementary school students they were synonyms, at least for this summer.

The Troup County School System Summer School program hosted rising kindergarten through third-grade students from five elementary schools and focused heavily on reading skills this summer. The program was part of a school system effort to prevent the summer slide, where students from forget part of what they learned over the break.

“Summer learning loss, the phenomenon where young people lose academic skills over the summer, is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate,” the National Summer Learning Association said on its website. “For many young people, the summer ‘opportunity gap’ contributes to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success.”

The summer school started May 30 and ran through June 29 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. In all, the program had 15 instructional days, which focused on phonics, guided reading and vocabulary development, but the students got to enjoy plenty of fun activities too.

“Additional activities, which is where we did a lot of the vocabulary development, included fine arts and P.E. and then we also had weekly field trips,” Troup County Schools Director of Elementary Education Kim White said.

Instructors said students improved their understanding of various topics through field trips the group took. Field trip locations included the West Point Lake Floating Classroom, Oakhurst Farms, the LaGrange Museum and Butts Mill Farm.

“What we sometimes fail to realize is that some of the students that we teach lack the experience to relate to what they are reading,” teacher Katie Willis said. “For example, the majority of our summer school students had never been on a boat before this summer. What a relatable experience they were able to have just putting on life jackets and observing the wildlife and the boat ride itself … The growth came from the combination of fun, academics and experiences.”

Based on a final assessment, students in the program saw above average growth in grade levels over the course of the program. The Early Intervention Program rubric, which is typically used to measure student growth during the school year, was used to assess the value of the program.  According to the rubric, while the students would have been expected to gain 1.9 points on the scale over the 15 days of instruction, the average student in the program improved an average of 2.9 points.

“Our instruction was very intentional,” teacher Heather Wallace said. “When we were doing this, we knew that we only had a short amount of time to provide this opportunity.”

That improvement would translate into almost a month of work during the regular school year, making it an impressive amount of growth for the students, and proving the program to have been a wise investment on behalf of its local partners.

“We were very fortunate to be given some funding from the Troup County Strategic Planning Board and from our school district to put together a summer learning program for early literacy in five of our elementary schools,” Assistant Superintendent Karen Cagle said.

The attendance rate for the program was 81 percent. Organizers were satisfied with the attendance rate for the first year considering that it was an optional summer program.

Organizers also discussed improvements they would like to make to the program in the future during the meeting.

The Troup County Board of Education is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at 100 North Davis Road, Building C.