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Program ASPIRES to curb summer slide

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Participants in LRSD’s ASPIRE program (from left): Satbinder Gondal, Layla McCurdy, Ranin Asker and Shams Alshamary.

PHOTO BY ADRIANO MAGNIFICO Enlarge Image

Participants in LRSD’s ASPIRE program (from left): Satbinder Gondal, Layla McCurdy, Ranin Asker and Shams Alshamary. Photo Store

Alice Cooper would not be pleased.

School’s not out for summer, especially for a group of dedicated elementary students in the Louis Riel School Division.

The ASPIRE program, an acronym for Academic Summer Program Including Recreation and Education, began at H. L. Victor Wyatt School in early July and ends August 7.

While summer is a time for students to relax, research shows that all that free, unfocused time inadvertently promotes learning losses that affect academic progress when school resumes in September. This trend is known by researchers as "the summer slide".

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the summer slide effect in his bestseller, The Outliers, when he revealed how elementary students attending the Bronx KIPP Academy made significant academic gains in non-traditional school timelines — in Saturdayand summertime classes — along with a conventional weekday format.

Recent research from Duke University echoes Gladwell’s insights, noting that students, particularly those from lower-income households, lose up to two months of reading achievement during the summer. Math skills of students from both high and low income households also showed decline over the summer months.

The loss of reading and math skills during the summer forces teachers to spend valuable time re-teaching forgotten concepts and skills.

L.R.S.D.’s pilot program consists of 60 students from grades 1-6 who attend literacy and numeracy classes for six weeks to improve or, at the very least, maintain their math and reading skills.

The ASPIRE teaching and organizational team is composed of certified teachers, post-secondary education students, high school students and a nutritionist.

The program includes nutritious breakfasts and lunches for all participants. Katherine Paré, who prepares all meals, stresses that solid nutrition aids the learning process: "Kids can’t learn properly if they’re not fed well, if they’re hungry."

The reading and math learning is all activity-based — there are no worksheets. Samantha Quinn, a lead instructor, believes that lessons need to be interactive and hands-on.

"We want the kids to learn without them realizing it," she says.

The students go on many field trips to enrich their learning and make the literacy lessons more relevant. They’ve been to the Forks, the Manitoba Legislature, the Manitoba Museum, the Art Gallery, the Kids’ Fringe, Lower Fort Garry, and a bowling alley. They’re learning in a culture of educational engagement and fun, and the staff takes every opportunity to connect their activities to their literacy classes.

ASPIRE seems to be having the desired effect on its participants.

Ashley Simpson, a Grade 6 student says, "it’s fun coming here, instead of staying home and being bored, sitting on the couch and watching TV.  I’m reading a lot."

Rami Asker, a Grade 2 student says, "it’s more fun than school. I like the field trips."

ASPIRE teacher co-ordinator Danielle Kaplan believes that "this program offers valuable life experiences to students who might otherwise not get a chance to participate in learning and cultural experiences, especially over the summer."

The program is patterned after the successful C.S.I. (Community School Investigators) summer program in the Winnipeg School Division. WSD partners with summer programming experts from The Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, who have also generously assisted ASPIRE with the delivery of its program.

Summer literacy programs are becoming more and more prevalent in American and Canadian schools, especially with the increasing demands of 21st century culture that depend on communication, problem-solving and innovation skills. Solid reading and math skills are essential tools for successful futures.

Adriano Magnifico is a community correspondent for St. Boniface. You can contact him at amagnif@mymts.net.

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