Teachers call it the "summer slide." After three months of vacation, Philly public school students can take until late November to regain the reading comprehension they'd established in June.
Unwilling to accept the slide as inevitable, Alejandro Gac-Artigas, a former Teach for America
fellow, developed Springboard Collaborative
, a low-cost summer program that keeps kids reading, even when they're not in the classroom. Now entering its third year, the program has secured a vendor agreement with the Philadelphia School District, expanding their reach from a couple hundred kids to over 900 students at eight schools.
"My students were only expected to learn when they were sitting at their desks in front of me," says Gac-Artigas, who taught first grade in North Philly. "Springboard is figuring out how to give kids in low-income communities the same access to learning at home."
At an annual expense of $700 per student -- the average summer program costs $2,000 per student -- Springboard offers a cost-effective strategy that utilizes parents in lieu of outside tutors. The program trains teachers on grade-appropriate reading goals. Those teachers, in turn, hold workshops to help parents become reading coaches. If a student enrolls in the program and meets achievement goals in the fall, Springboard gives them school supplies. If they exceed criteria, they get a laptop.
"In the short term, it gets parents and teachers behind the same goal," explains Gac-Artigas. "In the long term, if we want parents to stay involved, we need to make sure they have the right materials."
The program was piloted in 2011 with 42 students. In 2012, the program expanded to serve 340 students from area charter schools -- Pan American Academy in the Northeast, Wissahickon Charter School
in Northwest Philly, Russell Byers Charter School
in Center City and Belmont Charter School
in West Philadelphia. Over ninety percent of parents who signed up completed workshops and some students nearly doubled their reading level. This year, Springboard will expand their reach to include the four public "receiving" schools.
According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, two-thirds of the inner city high school achievement gap can be attributed to cumulative summer reading loss. By entering a vendor agreement, Springboard will become one of the first early-stage companies to tackle this problem for the District -- a role usually reserved for chain corporations and national nonprofits.
"Typically it's been an all or nothing way of approaching contracts," says Gac-Artigas. "This is the first time the school district has really opened its doors to innovation."
Alejandro Gac-Artigas, Springboard Collaborative