Kristin Ashley is Principal of Howard Elementary in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In this blog post, she explains her school’s six-week summer school program known as Husky Academy.
It didn’t take long for me to see that “summer slide” is a real and potentially devastating occurrence for some students at our Title 1 Elementary School. Six years ago, I became the principal at Howard Elementary School, in the Howard-Suamico School District, near Green Bay Wisconsin. We are the twenty-fourth largest school district in Wisconsin, with suburban roots. As a district we have roughly 21% of our students on Free and Reduced Lunch, but at Howard we are at around 51%. Howard Elementary is a unique school environment. While we face a daily intention around students who may have demographic needs, we also work to set a high standard of academic achievement for all of our students. In 2015 we were recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School based on our high-achieving students and the remarkable efforts of our staff. We focus on building relationships with our students and setting high expectations for them.
When I was looking at data over my first couple years as a principal, I realized that it confirmed what I feared. The summer slide was a real threat to the learning gains of our students. Students were typically regressing multiple reading levels over the short summer months. As James Kim, EdD, assistant professor of Education at Harvard University supports, “children from low-income families are also disproportionately affected by the summer slide in ways that can affect them years into their education.” His research also found that, “children in 3rd to 5th grades also showed that students lost, on average, about 20% of their school-year gains in reading and 27% of their school-year gains in math during summer break.” In working with the students, staff and families, we wanted to make a positive impact on connecting summer experiences to extended learning opportunities. Any amount of learning students could retain would help them to be closer to their goals when they were in school.
To answer the challenge, we started thinking of uniquely different summer experiences. We believed that these students would benefit the most from being in their home school with teachers they had relationships with in order to combat the loss of learning of the summer. While this idea was a strong prompting, I will never forget the phone call that changed everything. We were informed that our school qualified for free summer meals for students on its campus. This was the green light to build our Husky Academy. We were going to be able to provide free breakfast and lunch for students on our campus, with caring staff members to support their academic connections and learning throughout our six-week summer school program. Our district Coordinator of Literacy and I desired to find a high-quality and engaging product to support teachers and students during this program. This is when I attended a literacy workshop and heard about Scholastic LitCamp.
The programs used quality books that had characters students already recognized, along with some new ones. It was easy to use and teachers could focus on students rather than having to take an abundance of time to create their own plans. Most of all, we loved the Seven Strengths that were highlighted throughout the lessons. Through the Strengths, we were able to address some of the social and emotional needs of our students, while building a culture that would transfer to the school year. One of the weekly highlights was celebrating students who displayed each strength throughout the week.
Husky Academy is a highlight of the summer for my staff and our targeted students. They love the opportunity to be part of something special, to keep reading quality materials, and to learn the Seven Strengths to help in our personal growth. We celebrate our students along the way and engage with fun themes throughout our time together. During one of our closing campfires, one of our students said, “The best part is being with family, and you are all my family!” This is why we continue to invest and build on our student belonging all summer. This builds our school family and grows our legacy in literacy.
Images courtesy of Kristin Ashley