Thank you, Wednesday Journal, for publishing my piece on our “underperforming” middle schools (Brooks and Julian) with suggestions for intervention that would help bring low-income students achieve their grade level in reading/writing and math [What do we do about underperforming schools? Viewpoints, Nov.7]. There is a wealth of material on successful intervention programs for reading and writing, but there has been less success in math programs, so I will leave that for someone else.
We all know programs that deal with early childhood education are the best way to prevent low skills by third grade However we must intervene at periods which are decisive in terms of entering middle school (fifth grade going into sixth) and entering high school (eighth grade going into ninth). We must also consider the issue of “summer learning loss” in which low-income students have a greater loss of achievement in summer than higher-income students.
Throughout the U.S., summer reading programs have been created and evaluated. Some work; others don’t. The research data is readily obtainable and points to programs such as the What Works Clearinghouse, Teaching Matters, and other websites that have accumulated data over the years on intervention programs. Instead of summarizing the data, I will present my ideas for a Summer Reading Camp that incorporates the data interwoven with my ideas:
1. A 4- to 8-week, full-day program, offered free to students not performing to grade level.
2. Mornings to work on skill development, lunch included as an opportunity to learn about good nutrition, and afternoons to incorporate museum visits, local pool party, film showings or other rewards.
3. Groups or teams should consist of 10-15 students.
4. Fifth-grade group, readiness for middle school in reading and writing skills, and eighth-grade group (based on results of PSAT 8/9 high school testing and other criteria) with readiness for high school.
5. Skill assessment at beginning and end of camp program, preferably of eight weeks length.
6. Highly skilled, socially committed teachers, with two per group. Could be present: area reading specialists or graduate students in education.
7. Parental involvement – at least weekly contact with parents to present each student’s progress as well as ways parents can help the student over the weekend by trips to a library, reading a book together, or spelling bees.
Even a pilot program of one group of 10-15 students would give us a start toward lessening the achievement gap. Could we do this for summer 2019? I think it is possible to find the necessary funds and personnel to initiate a Summer Reading and Writing Camp for students in need of a caring and well-researched curriculum.
Doing nothing means that yet another group of underperforming fifth-graders will start middle school and eighth-graders will be passed along to the high school. We cannot afford that as a community that values the best in education and cares for our children.
Bobbie Raymond is a longtime Oak Park resident and head of the OPRF High School Alumni Association.