collaborative learning

Effort to embed literacy classes in summer camps explodes in Shelby County

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Kayla Terrell, 8, reacts to getting a question correct on her reading worksheet.

Jada Bougard and Kayla Terrell looked to each other and then back down at their vocabulary worksheets. ‘What word should we match for “frozen rain,” Jada asked. “Precipitation or hail?”

Kayla flipped back to the short story that she and her classmates, 40 eight- and nine-year-olds, just read at a daily literacy intervention class at the Thomas B. Davis YMCA in Whitehaven.

“Hail!” she said, pumping her fists into the air when the teacher declared her answer correct.

The two girls are among more than 1,000 Memphis children receiving reading instruction through their camps this summer because of an unprecedented effort to get community groups across the city working toward the same goals.

That effort is spearheaded by Seeding Success, the Memphis member of StriveTogether, a national “collective impact” initiative. Memphis community groups agreed last summer to an ambitious slate of goals, including to have 90 percent of Memphis third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.

Currently, only about a third of local third graders read on grade level, and many fall behind over the summer vacation, according to Mark Sturgis, Seeding Success’s executive director. (Seeding Success and Chalkbeat both receive funds from the Pyramid Peak Foundation).

“Years of research has shown that third-grade reading is indicative of post-secondary success,” Sturgis said. “We know that kids lose ground in the summer, regardless of how effective their teachers were. There’s a strong place for the community to stand in that gap. That’s why we’ve formed our network and focused on the summer.”

Designed by Literacy Mid-South, the summer literacy program gives partner sites everything they need to offer 45 to 90 minutes of K-3 literacy instruction everyday.

That includes materials, teacher training, and ideas about how to deliver lessons. It also includes information about the test scores of students enrolled in their camps, which Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District have agreed to share with Seeding Success.

Because of the data-sharing, organizations can tailor literacy intervention to their own students, rather than treating all students as if they are on the same reading level.

Kim Morgan-West, the YMCA camp director, said having student test scores in hand allows her team to group students based on skill level and focus on the students who are the furthest behind.

“We were able to see a lot of improvement in our students who participated last summer, especially in their confidence to read,” Morgan-West said. “Literacy is the base for all learning, and summer is a great time to strengthen that base. It’s exciting to be able to expand our program this year and better tailor it to our students’ specific needs.”

Literacy Mid-South typically focuses on adult learning —the group estimates that about a quarter of adults in Memphis are functionally illiterate — but decided to support summer programs for school-age children after Seeding Success brought local groups together.

“We saw a huge correlation” between students’ low third-grade scores and adult illiteracy, said Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South. “And we saw an opportunity, because so many summer camps have students walk through their doors every day, but they just weren’t teaching them reading.”

A pilot version of the program last summer served 350 students at six sites. This year, 10 times as many students are enrolled at 15 different locations, ranging from the Whitehaven YMCA to Memphis Athletic Ministries to a summer program run by the Memphis Teacher Residency teacher training program.

The rapid expansion came after Seeding Success’s internal evaluation showed that participation prevented students from losing academic ground over the summer, a phenomenon known as the “summer slide” that tends to hit low-income students hardest.

Literacy Data Chart
PHOTO: Seeding Success

According to Seeding Success’s data from last summer, 74 percent of the 350 students who participated maintained their reading levels over the summer or improved. Only six students showed a backslide, Sturgis said.

Students typically lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association.

Students who participate over the summer will receive a book at the end of every week that they are in the program, in an effort to encourage students to continue reading at home, Sturgis said.

“Many students don’t have access to books at home,” he said. “And even if they did, they can’t learn to read well on their own. That’s why basic, foundational skills need to be taught first.”

To reach Memphis’s 90-percent on-track goal by 2025, 500 more third-graders will need to read at grade level every year. Sturgis is confident that goal is attainable.

“It’s easy for a lone teacher to feel overwhelmed at this vast need,” he said. “We can move the needle slowly and progressively if we mobilize the entire community. Because without literacy skills, students are going to get left behind for a lifetime.”

Editor’s note: The third graph has been updated to include the number of Memphis children participating in the program.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.