Summer’s here and it’s time to break out the beach towels, sunblock – and the books.

Educators worried about “summer slide” – how some students lose skills in the lazy days of summer – are putting new effort behind summer learning opportunities, from new funds for the city library’s Bookmobile to reading lists sent home with all Portland students this year.

“Kids are much more likely to falter and drop out if they are not reading,” said Mike Dixon, the executive director of Portland ConnectED, an initiative by Mayor Michael Brennan to engage local businesses, philanthropists and educators to provide a spectrum of education benefits to Portland’s young people.

Brennan and Dixon joined Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk on Friday to launch the Portland Pledge for Summer Success and unveil some of the programs available this year. Dixon said new grant money will allow three more schools to provide reading programs over the summer, serving 130 additional children. They are also able to expand the Bookmobile hours and staffing, provide more book giveaways and plan to offer a “celebrity reading” event later this summer.

Parents, too, are thinking academics when signing up kids for summer camps. In addition to learning tennis or hanging out in the woods, summer camp can be where kids hone their math skills, learn to build a robot or brush up on their language skills.

Ocean Avenue School parent Ted Arand says he aims to combine summer fun with ongoing learning in reading and math for his 8-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who will take part in a summer reading program at the school and attend Ecology School in Saco.

“We’re just trying to keep her active with a mix of fun and keeping the educational level up,” he said, milling outside Ocean Avenue on her last day of second grade.

On the Portland School District’s website, Caulk has a video urging students to “read on!” during the summer. All public school students got a reading list from their teachers, he said. “Parents, please make sure that your students follow through,” he says on the video.

In academic circles, it’s an article of faith that summer means backsliding for some students, and various research cited by the National Summer Learning Association provides specific examples. For instance, while most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math over the summer, low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, even as their middle-class peers make gains in reading.

Reading at grade level at the end of third grade is a particularly important benchmark to gauge future academic success, educators say. A report issued this month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation laid out the various research about the third-grade benchmark.

In Portland, 60 percent of third-graders are reading at grade level, according to state data.

“Third-grade reading is a powerful predictor of school success (and) high school graduation. Children who are not ready for school, who miss too many days and who lose ground over the summer months are likely to miss the third-grade reading milestone,” said Ralph Smith, senior vice president at the Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

For 9-year-old Toby Picher, the first day of vacation was the chance to load up an armful of books — and get a brand new library card — from the city’s Bookmobile.

“I like to look at books and it’s good to read,” said Toby, who finished the third grade at Presumpscot Elementary School on Thursday. His books ranged from a Guinness Book of World Records to a book about giant squid. He and his 6-year-old sister, Cora, had already been at the downtown branch of the library earlier that day, said their mother, Caroline Clavel.

“I am someone who thinks you get to access a lot of the world through reading,” Clavel said, standing with her children outside the Root Cellar, which runs a Christian-based drop-in center for children on Washington Avenue. Cora piped up to add that she’d just gotten her first library card, proudly showing it off.

Dixon said the Bookmobile will be able to do more visits like this one, and hand out more library cards, with new grant money. A schedule for its stops is available at the library and school district websites.

Summer learning is “about academic habits as well,” Dixon said. Kids who don’t crack a book all summer are simply out of the habit of reading, writing or setting aside time to learn new things.

But summer learning is something doled out in small doses, Dixon said. Summer is about fun, too, and the programming is all geared toward having fun and learning at the same time.

That’s the attitude at East End Community School, too, where 70 at-risk second- and third-graders will attend “Club Success” starting July 1. The school is also offering a summer reading program and some neighborhood outreach programs.

Principal Marcia Gendron laughs when she’s asked if the “club” is actually “summer school.”

“It’s ‘Club Success,’ ” she repeats with a smile. “They won’t even know they’re in summer school.”


Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]


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