After a stint as a first-grade teacher in North Philadelphia, Alejandro Gac-Artigas, the founder of Springboard Collaborative, wondered why his students needed until mid-November to regain the learning losses that were happening over the summer.
On average, low-income elementary students experience a three-month learning regression when school is out and they often struggle to catch up with their more affluent peers.
So Gac-Artigas started probing, rallied some funders, and set out to narrow the achievement gap — an undertaking that has catapulted Springboard into 20 low-performing schools in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J.
One of those schools is McMichael Elementary in Mantua, where the majority of students and families are low-income. For five weeks this summer, Springboard is running an intensive reading program — with an emphasis on parent engagement — for K-3 students.
The program is staffed by current McMichael teachers like Rachel Horger-Oren, who said that parent workshops and daily feedback help them build positive relationships with families.
“In this community, parents wanted to be involved, but they didn’t know how,” Horger-Oren said. “One of the reasons I got into this is because of how much parent involvement there is.”
The involvement and coaching of parents is intentional and frequent, Gac-Artigas explained. “Too often, our system treats the families of low-income students as liabilities, rather than assets,” he said.
Springboard’s summer program — and now a school-year pilot — is empowering parents to reward reading gains by offering incentives such as books and tablets.
“The constant encouragement of the parents is unbelievable,” acknowledged Horger-Oren, who is also a literacy instructor at McMichael.
“The first time I had a student move up a [reading] level, it was so exciting to be able to call the parent and know that we had a common goal. That’s not an opportunity we have during the regular school year.”
Springboard’s model has received support from diverse funders, including the Lincoln Financial Foundation.
“Springboard is holistic,” said Susan Segal, the program officer for the Foundation, which recently made a grant to the organization, along with 18 other Philadelphia-based nonprofits.
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“The program is unique because the work is based in the school and is also being done at home by the parent and student. Springboard has found a unique way to engage parents, which has a great multiplier effect,” she added.
In the three years since it launched, Springboard has reached more than 1,300 students in public, charter and parochial schools. It has also learned some valuable lessons on the ground.
“We realized that the best readers ask themselves questions before, during, and after reading, and the best teachers teach kids to ask questions,” Gac-Artigas said.
A third of the families whose children are enrolled in the program also struggle with adult literacy, according to Springboard. But even low-literacy parents who master simple techniques can help their child make reading gains, Gac-Artigas explained.
“The fact that you pick the right book and ask the right questions goes a long way. You don’t need to be able to answer them to be an effective teacher,” he said.
Photo via Flickr user fly-30-
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