Bridging the Gap of Learning Loss in the Summer for Kids

Horizons Greater Washington works to fight summer learning loss for kids from low-income areas

For many kids, summer means camp and family vacation. For other kids, it means falling behind.

Low-income students around the country are suffering from "summer slide": learning loss that can set them back two months every school year.

In D.C., Horizons Greater Washington works to stop the slide.

Current events are the lesson of the day for rising 9th grader Ashley Vigil and a room full of her classmates.

"Here, it's just having fun with it... Just enjoying math or whichever subject we're in," Vigil said.

The Horizons Greater Washington Summer Enrichment Program taps students as kindergartners at three schools in D.C. and Chevy Chase, Md. Most stay through the end of middle school.

"Our program is not summer school in the traditional sense, but the students are learning every moment," said Maria Barry, Horizons Greater Washington Executive Director. "And so what we say is... we inspire lifelong learners."

All 270 students in the program come from low-income communities, all Hispanic, black or multiracial. And they're all targets for summer slide, caused by a lack of access to quality summer learning opportunities.

"Each summer that they fall behind, up until 5th grade, they actually will end up being two to three years behind by the time they get to high school," Barry said.

The students -- rising 1st through 9th graders -- are bussed from their neighborhoods to the three private schools that host the program for six weeks each summer: Maret and St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School in the district and the Norwood School in Bethesda.

"We use these amazing independent school campuses and they have smartboards and whiteboards and technology that they are pro bono, in kind, giving to our program," Barry said.

Students study all the essentials: reading, math and science. But these kids also have full access to libraries at any time, to professional teachers with a passion for hands-on learning, and to state-of-the-art computers.

A group of 6th graders is designing, building and programming robotics.

Student teacher Rafi Rosario will head to college in Pennsylvania this fall. He's also a graduate of the Horizons program.

"I got to go off and see what colleges were like before I even knew what they were, going into my freshman year in high school," Rosario said. "While these kids do spend most of their time in the classroom, a big part of the horizons program is about experiencing things that... for many of these kids... they've never done before."

Most Horizons students learn to swim through the program. It's not just a confindence builder, but a life-saving skill. Experiential learning also includes rafting and camping -- not your typical inner-city activities.

"I would have maybe stayed home and watched television... and not gone outside," said rising 9th grader Jonathan Fuentes.

Fuentes has picked up some new skills, and he's also part of a group that gains two to three months in reading and math skills going into each new school year.

"[The] teaching is way different," Fuentes said. "Here at Horizons, when they teach, they make it way fun."

Students are asked to pay a nominal fee to get into the Horizons program. And during the school year, Horizons Greater Washington tutors students on Saturday morning. To learn more, visit their website here.

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