Avoiding the ‘Summer Slide’

August 14, 2017
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Thanks to the United Way’s Early Grade Reading Summer Literacy program, these Monmouth Day Care students are getting ready for kindergarten. Photos by Bart Lentini

By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez |

RED BANK – School children from low-income families face a special challenge during the summer, when classroom learning stops. Educators call this the summer slide.

But the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties have partnered with the Red Bank school district and Monmouth Day Care Center to create an innovative program to prevent summer learning loss.

Getting students to read on at least a third grade reading level is critical to student assessment, according to Timothy Hearne, CEO of United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. “There’s a big correlation in that and high school graduation rates.”

According to Hearne and other educators, children “learn to read” through third grade and then they “read to learn.”

“We work with partners throughout the counties, to identify kids most at risk and put them in high-quality programs,” said Hearne. (At-risk is defined by a combination of academic and economic need.)

This summer the Early Grade Reading Summer Literacy grant provided funding for 30 Red Bank preschool students with an eight-week full-day summer program at the Red Bank Primary School and Monmouth Day Care Center. The goal, according to the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, is to reach students who would not other wise have access to these opportunities and ensure the students are ready for kindergarten.

Like most preschools, the classroom at Monmouth Day Care Center on Dr. James Parker Boulevard offers students a host of activities to encourage creativity and learning. The program focuses on literacy and reading and offers activities designed to enhance and build fine motor skills through hands-on learning and small group learning centers. Physical activity and field trips are featured throughout the summer, and healthy eating and nutrition is cultivated.

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Aligned with the Red Bank Primary School, the class uses the Tools of the Mind curriculum, where play is the central teaching tool, at a more relaxed pace during summer.

“At first many of them couldn’t spell their names when they first came,” said Carolyn Zuidema, who teaches the class of 4-and 5-year-olds. “They didn’t know shapes or colors.”

Working with games, name recognition, and routine, she has seen improvement.

“We want to keep them in the learning process, so they don’t lose things over the summer,” she said. “They are excited about getting ready for kindergarten.”

And it’s not just ABCs. Etiquette and good manners are stressed, as children learn the arts of sharing, how to apologize and how to use words to express feelings. “What’s also unique about this program – and the Monmouth Day Care Center – is we hold family-style breakfasts, with child-size pitchers and silverware,” Zuidema said.

“If you don’t have your social and emotional skills in place, it’s hard to be successful in life,” she said. “We work on that.”

The program also takes into consideration that for many of the children, English is their second language. “So before they first answer a question, they have to translate in their minds,” she said. “So they may be a little behind than their peers.”

Family involvement is important. “The parents are very supportive,” said Zuidema. “If they didn’t have this program, a lot of children would be watched by an older sibling and sitting in front of the TV all day, as most parents work.”

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Any ground the students may have made in pre-K can easily be lost.

“They wouldn’t be doing anything academic. They will lose what they learned during the school year,” she said.

This article was first published in the August 10-17, 2017 Back to School edition of The Two River Times newspaper.

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