Summer: Romping, reveling and…reading

This article has been posted with permission by the Iowa Department of Education. It appeared in the May 2014 edition of Each and Every Child, an e-newsletter by the Department’s Bureau of Student and Family Support Services.

Seven-year-old Alex Nimke works with a fellow student.

Seven-year-old Alex Nimke works with a fellow student.

An average student can backslide a full month on reading skills during the summer break. It may be even worse for some students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

That’s not acceptable for Shaun Nimke. Her 7-year-old son Alex has come too far to lose a minute of his educational progress. That’s why Nimke was delighted to learn that her son’s school was having a 12-week summer literacy program.

Sponsored by Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, Manson Northwest Webster Elementary School in the north central Iowa town of Barnum will host approximately 16 students with historically challenging backgrounds – those with IEPs or who qualify for Title I – in the summer reading program. The goal? To stem the “summer education slide,” the skills lost when school has dismissed for summer break.

The pilot program is being launched in one grade school in each of the five regions in Prairie Lakes AEA. The program is principally aimed at first graders and, as space allows, second graders. At each of the schools during the program, there will be a literacy consultant, and a special education consultant or speech language pathologist, depending on the individual school needs. Each school provides a teacher.

“We’ve been wanting to support schools in early literacy,” said Jill Siefken, a consultant for Prairie Lakes AEA. “Statewide, we know there’s a huge emphasis on literacy, and ensuring every child can read at grade level by the end of third grade. So creating this program just made sense.”

Elementary Principal Justin Daggett was eager to kick off the literacy program.

Elementary Principal Justin Daggett was eager to kick off the literacy program.

Principal Justin Daggett hopes to continue the pilot summer literacy program beyond this year.

“Those who have been chosen to participate have the biggest needs in literacy,” he said.

“They tend to lose the most in the summer. We want to maintain what they learned this year so that next year we can build upon it.”

The program uses various strategies to engage students in reading.

“There will be a good mix of big group, small group and independent reading,” Siefken said. “The No. 1 thing is to get books into kids’ hands – combining that with a balanced literacy program using teachers and comprehension strategies.”

Daggett said creating parental enthusiasm is important to the program.

“We sent out personalized invitations,” he said. “It’s important to involve the parents so that they become active partners in ensuring our work in the school is continued at home.”

There’s no question that Nimke is a top-drawer partner.

“We pick books that Alex likes to read, and then we read the same one for a week or so, then switch,” she said. “Repetition seems to work well for him. But liking the book – that’s important.”

Results of the summer efforts will be measured in the fall, but Daggett is hopeful (if not downright confident) it will continue.

“This program is building capacity in my teachers for literacy instruction,” he said. “I would like to get more teachers involved in this process. Though we’re limited to one classroom teacher this year, I want to expand that in the future.”

For Nimke and her son, they take a day-by-day approach on literacy instruction.

“The main thing is that we’ve made a lot of progress through the years, and so we don’t want to lose it,” she said. “The more he reads, the more his confidence builds. A week ago while we were reading, he said he wanted to take the book to school. He said he thought he could read it with another student to help him with the harder words, and I reminded him that he could do it himself.”

And he did.

Nimke said that reading is the foundation of all education. And it’s critical to get students up to snuff early on.

“It is so important to read and write, and this is the point you need to catch him ,” she said. “Reading is the base of everything, and if you don’t have that, it will make for a very tough life. They are your kids, you should want the best for them, and do anything to make their lives as good as possible.”

As for Alex, he is eager to pursue reading about his favorite topic: fire trucks. It’s not that he aspires to being a firefighter, he says with a sheepish grin.

“I like them because they go fast,” Alex said.

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