Summer Learning: “Purposefully getting kids better prepared for school”

Photo courtesy of Peter Dunphy

Building windmills and race cars, growing vegetables, and exploring pond habitats — these are just a few of the activities kids are pursuing at a Skagit Valley summer learning program. While the kids have a lot of fun, they are also learning important skills and concepts that will help them progress during the school year and prevent loss of learning over the summer.

The Feed Your Brain program in the Skagit Valley is serving about 250 kids this summer, most from families with low incomes and who speak a language other than English at home. The program is designed to provide students, ranging in age from 3 to 15, with healthy meals and rich learning opportunities — two elements that are missing for some kids during the summer.

Research shows that summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the achievement gap for reading among ninth graders.

“Purposeful” is the word the program director, Robin Ringland, uses to describe Feed Your Brain. “We’re not just having fun and having meals. We are purposefully getting these kids better prepared for school,” said Ringland, who is a former high school science department chair and is the board president for the Foundation for Academic Endeavors, which operates Feed Your Brain in the Skagit Valley.

The curriculum that the program’s 14 certified teachers use are aligned to state learning standards, and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills, as well as reading and writing.

The Feed Your Brain program in the Skagit Valley is one of 11 in rural communities across Washington, where summer opportunities are often scarce. School’s Out Washington (SOWA) administers the grant project, providing funding and training to support the selected communities.

“Feed Your Brain steps in to fill the void for a community that may not have something else for these kids to do,” said Shannon Robinson, of SOWA. The programs provide at least 90 minutes of literacy activities each day, and they aim to help students continuing progressing with their reading skills.

In the Skagit Valley, kids arrive each day on the campus of Skagit Valley College, which hosts the program. They receive breakfast and lunch, as well as time in the classroom and the opportunity to get fresh air outside. Exposure to a college campus, as well as the 11 college students who intern with the program, show the students that college is achievable. They see that “I can do this too,” Ringland said.

Photo courtesy of Peter Dunphy

The prekindergartners work on their ability to follow directions and fine motor skills that will prepare them to hold pencils, as well as exploring the nearby pond and garden — an opportunity designed to inspire their curiosity.

In the middle school classroom, meanwhile, the teacher spent the first week helping students get to know each other and build a community, creating an environment more conducive to learning throughout the rest of the four weeks of the program, Ringland said.

The community comes together to make Feed Your Brain possible — from collaborations with four local school districts, to area churches, volunteers and parents, many partners contribute. The program also hired a counselor this year to support students who are struggling.

About 95 percent of students who participate in summer literacy programs that SOWA funds maintained or improved their reading level over the course of the summer.

“A lot of learning takes place,” Ringland said.

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July 10–14 is Summer Learning Week. Learn more about Feed Your Brain here from School’s Out Washington.