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Tackling the Summer Slide

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Armed with a passion for supporting our neediest students, Oregon educators creatively address - and prevent - summer learning loss.

Harrison Park Elementary School sits at a busy corner in Southeast Portland where cars fly by and ambulances squeal day and night. In recent years, the poverty-stricken neighborhood has been plagued by racial violence, and as a result, many parents are afraid to let their kids play outside or walk home from school. It’s certainly not the idyllic setting one would envision for an elementary school, and it’s not surprising that, over the summer, many of Harrison Park’s students find themselves inside their apartment complexes with, quite literally, absolutely nothing to do.

Except for a lucky few.

Four years ago, Tim Schulze landed his first full-time teaching job at Harrison Park as a 5th grade teacher. At the time, he had several years under his belt as a substitute teacher, and from those years, he’d seen firsthand the impact (and anxiety) that the summer vacation had on his English Language Learner (ELL) students. He remembers in particular a young girl from Turkey, who ended the year at grade level. But, after three months of not speaking English in her home, she returned to school the next fall woefully unprepared to pick up with the rest of her class.

Like this young girl, Schulze recognized that many, if not all, of his ELL students needed opportunities for summer learning that they just weren’t getting at home. According to current research from the National Summer Learning Association, low-income students lose approximately two months of reading achievement over the summer, while their higher-income peers often gain ground. The loss is cumulative – meaning what begins as a modest delay for a six-year-old can reach crisis point by the time that child gets to high school. For students who speak little to no English in the home, the situation is exacerbated. But, without adequate public education funding for summer school, and with families who cannot afford to send their kids to costly day camps, where do you turn?

In Schulze’s case, you start a non-profit.

Read the rest of this story, and more, in the June 2014 issue of Today's OEA magazine - available online here.