Children in learning camps making the grade Summer programs target at-risk students

March 15, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Children who participated in the county school system's 1997 summer learning camps for at-risk pre-school and elementary-level students have shown improvement this school year in a number of areas, including attendance, academic performance and behavior, according to an evaluation of the program.

The camps, begun three years ago as part of the federal Goals 2000 education initiative, also appear to be a factor in narrowing the gap in state test scores between those schools serving the county's greatest numbers of disadvantaged children and other schools.

"Summer is a very valuable time to support at-risk children, who tend to regress during that period, as opposed to advantaged children, who still advance over summer," said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary schools in the county. "That creates an achievement gap, which widens over time."

Mangle developed the camps to reduce that gap, known to educators as "the summer differential."

"During the school year, we see progress," Mangle said. "But what was so distressing to us was that the children would return in August and perform at levels below their performance in June."

The evaluation compared 203 children who attended last year's camp with 276 children who, though identified as at-risk and invited to attend, didn't participate in the program. The assessment found that children who attended the camp showed immediate improvement during the camp and demonstrated gains during the first semester of the 1997-1998 school year.

Among the findings:

30 percent of campgoers improved attendance, compared with a 4 percent rate among non-campers.

33 percent of campgoers had a reduced number of disciplinary infractions, compared with a 9 percent reduction among non-campers.

5 percent of campgoers showed declining academic performance, compared with 35 percent of non-campers.

The evaluation also compared the 1994 and 1997 Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program scores of Carroll's Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools. The federally funded Title 1 program provides extra money to schools that serve larger numbers of low income students, based on the number of children that receive free or reduced price lunches.

In Carroll, five of the county's 19 elementary schools are designated Title 1: William Winchester, Runnymede, Robert Moton, Elmer Wolfe and Taneytown.

Mangle found that over the three years, which included summer learning camps in 1995 and 1996, the disparity in scores between Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools decreased on the MSPAP scores of third- and fifth-graders in all six test-subject areas.

In 1994, for example, 12 percent fewer third-graders in Title 1 schools scored at satisfactory levels on the reading portion of the MSPAP than third-graders in non-Title 1 schools. By 1997, that difference had shrunk to 7 percent.

"We think it [the summer learning camp experience] contributed to the fact that there is no longer such a significant difference between Title 1 and non-Title 1," Mangle said.

Melissa Jording said her chil- dren benefited from last year's camp at William Winchester Elementary.

Nine-year-old Alicia made progress on her multiplication tables. And Robert, 8, who has a learning disability, was reading by the end of the camp.

"It was a huge milestone for him," Jording said. "He has trouble with comprehension, and they really worked with him."

Jane Schisler said her 7-year-old daughter, Caitlin, who attended Taneytown's summer camp in 1996 and 1997, improved her reading and writing skills. She also benefited from the continuation of the school setting, her mother said.

"She has difficulty with recalling, so the more repetition and routine, the better it is for her," Schisler said.

The three-year summer learning camp project got off the ground in 1995 with an $80,000 grant from the state Department of Education. Supplemental grants of $140,000 and $54,000 funded the 1996 and 1997 camps.

Mangle designed the monthlong camps to be "parent-friendly," with a full-day program, lunch and before- and after-camp child care. In the second year, the camps offered transportation because some of the most needy children had no way to get to the camp.

The teaching staff used themes to integrate learning activities in different subjects. At Robert Moton, for example, there was a baseball motif in reading and math classes. It carried over to lunch, with hot dog and sodas on the menu one day.

About $3,300 remains from the three-year state grant for the summer camps, but Mangle has asked the school board to approve scaled-back camps in the last two weeks of June for children who need help with beginning reading skills. She has proposed that the camps be held at four of the county's lowest achieving schools: William Winchester, Runnymede, Taneytown and Charles Carroll.

Mangle hopes the school board will recognize the success of the camps and consider allocating local money for similar projects in the future.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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