The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

August 12, 2013

Not vacation: Summer learning programs crucial

(Continued)

Allyn compares it to sports: “If you’re going for a run or playing tennis, if you take two months off, you might have some muscle memory left but you’re not going to be in the same shape.”

That principle applies to students as well as teachers.

In Chicago, principal Shawn Jackson spent the better part of his summer meeting with colleagues to redesign the reading program at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy.

“It took us a good two months. We took the whole summer,” he said.

Their answer: a stuffed animal called “CY-BEAR.” Each student this fall will be given a stuffed bear that they will read to, reducing anxiety to perform well in front of classmates.

It sounds unusual, Jackson acknowledges, but studies have found it can help improve scores among students whose parents don’t regularly read to them. That translates to needed gains; about 85 percent of Jackson’s 930 students read below grade level and almost all come from low-income homes.

“During the school year, there are so many other variables that can come into play. Day-to-day operations, sometimes we get into their own silos, teachers have to worry about the 30 students in front of them,” Jackson said.

So he and his team competed in the Chicago Public Education Fund’s Summer Design Program, an innovation challenge that offered educators up to $10,000 to test their ideas.

“Most people would take the time to relax,” Jackson said.

Instead, he and his team rewrote the school’s reading program, overhauling how his youngest students spend two hours each day.

Discovery Education pulled together a free series of lessons rooted in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, as educators brand the emphasis. One lesson on water was downloaded by 4,000 summer educators.

The lesson-in-a-box offered summer school teachers a chance to try a new way to get to students interested in STEM subjects. Video, experiments, journals — all ready for teachers and students to try to bring up their STEM literacy among fifth- to eighth-graders.

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