Ah, summer vacation! Both students and teachers look forward to it all year long. Long days of fun in the sun. Parents might be a little less enthusiastic even though they fondly remember their own childhood summer days. But now they worry about what will occupy their child’s time, who will take care of them while they are at work, and — perhaps most perplexing of all – how do they avoid the plaintive cries of “I’m bored!” and “There’s nothing to do!”
But there is another –less obvious but quite important –problem concerning summer vacation. Decades of experience and numerous studies have shown that not all but many students lose ground over the summer. Students who had been reading at or above grade level during the school year are often lagging behind by September. In the fall, they may struggle with math problems, addition and subtraction that they had previously mastered. Thus the first part of the new school year is often spent reviewing and catching students back up to where they were before vacation.
For the fifth summer now, Kent County Public Schools has run a special program to help prevent that summer loss, and in fact, to help students forge ahead, building on what they learned during the school year so that they are ready for the new school year.
Called KEEP for Kent Exploration and Enrichment Program, the program ran Monday through Thursday for 4 weeks in July. Approximately 100 students were enrolled in the program which was held at Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown. Students in grades 1-8 were nominated for the program by teachers and other school personnel. Parents, who were sent information about the upcoming program, were allowed to nominate their own children. KEEP was funded by a 21st Century Grant administered by the Maryland State Department of Education. There were no fees for the families. The program included lunch and bus transportation to and from school. Program activities focused on reading, math, and science.
Partnering with the school system were Washington College, the Sassafras Environmental Education Center at Turner’s Creek, Sultana Education Foundation, the Kent County Public Library, Chesapeake Bank and Trust, and Echo Hill Outdoor School.
Field trips were an important part of the enrichment component. There were walking trips to nearby places such as the Kent County Public Library. Buses took the students further afield, including a day trip to the Baltimore Aquarium. Closer to home, they visited the various partners’ sites, learning about resources and institutions in their community such as Chesapeake Bank and the Sultana Education Center. All the students were able to visit the Turner’s Creek center, where they learned about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Wayne Gilchrist, director of the Turner’s Creek center, said they also toured the vegetable garden at the center. A special treat at the center was a chance to learn about Indian arrowheads collected along the Sassafras River banks. All grades were given a canoe trip and had a chance to hike through the forest, where they saw animal homes. Gilchrest said that one group got a surprise close-up look at a beaver swimming near their canoes.
The program had six teachers, with four instructional aides moving between classes as needed.
While the program follows projects and curriculum developed by educational and subject experts, there was also input from local teachers and parents. One interesting note is that the parents requested homework assignments — and they got them! Special projects to be completed at home were given to all students. But completion was optional. It was, after all, summer. Progress reports were also sent home, once in the middle of KEEP and then a final report at the end. The program also included academic pre- and post-testing of all students in order to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
On the final day, families were invited to a special KEEP-Expo demonstration and swim day at the Kent County Community Center in Worton.