Programs aim to plug brain drain

On a sunny afternoon, children were inside throwing pieces of felt in the air, gluing abstract cutout shapes to paper and designing nature collages with leaves, branches and twigs.

As the group of 5- and 6-year-olds was learning about famous modern artists at the Lawrence Public Library, they also were practicing the skills they had spent the previous nine months acquiring in school.

The library program is intended to help children remember how to sit still, watch a performer and interact with other kids their age. Of course, reading is important, too.

Five-year-old Gillian Sellet, center, lights up as she and other young children gather to look at classic pieces of art while listening to poetry during Kidsapalooza June 4 at the Lawrence Public Library. Kidsapalooza is one of many events hosted by the library that are designed to keep kids intellectually engaged during the summer months.

“Studies say if you don’t keep on reading during the summer, a lot of kids will fall behind in the school year,” youth services coordinator Kim Fletcher said.

The Lawrence Public Library is just one organization in Lawrence offering programs to curb what educators call summer learning loss.

Every year, test scores take a slight dip between spring and fall, said Kim Bodensteiner, the Lawrence school district’s chief academic officer. The downward slide is true for most content areas and at most grade levels, but it is particularly noticeable in math.

“You see just slight declines, but for some individual students it is more pronounced over the summer,” Bodensteiner said.

Every fall, teachers review materials that were learned the prior year. They would prefer to have the students “able to hit the ground running and pick up where they were when they left,” Bodensteiner said.

United Way goal

In the United Way’s quest to boost high school graduation rates, the agency believes that curbing summer learning loss is one area the community can help improve.

“The national research tells us when kids are succeeding in reading and math in fifth grade, they are more likely to graduate,” United Way President and CEO Erika Dvorske said. “There are really all kinds of ways we as a community can keep kids on track.”

The United Way would like to foster partnerships so community organizations can work together to address summer learning loss.

The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence is introducing a program at its East Heights site that will keep academics on students’ minds during the summer.

Thanks to a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant of $10,000, the Boys and Girls Club will have six certified teachers on staff this summer. Throughout a six-week program, those teachers will instruct 180 students and cover themes as varied as the Olympics and plants and gardening.

“It’s an opportunity for the teachers to do some fun things that they may not do during the school year and for the kids to learn and also have fun with it,” said Colby Wilson, who is the club’s executive director.

Each unit comes with its own vocabulary list and books, but there will also be math and science skills incorporated into the program. Teachers will work with students for about an hour a day, which will leave plenty of time for playing sports, crafts and trips to the pool.

Once summer ends, Wilson said, the Boys and Girls Club will keep an eye on test scores to measure the program’s success.

“We want it to be successful and we want to sustain it,” Wilson said.

Summer reading

Over at the Lawrence Public Library, special prizes are given as an incentive for students to record how much they read. Last year, more than 6,000 children signed up for reading logs and more than half of them reached the goal of reading 12 or more books.

The library also offers more than just books. There are hands-on activities and performances geared toward children every day of the week during the summer.

“We want to foster a love of reading through the public library and we want families to enjoy the library. During the summer, we want them to know there is a lot of stuff going on here for them,” Fletcher said.

The school district also offers resources for parents to keep children engaged over the summer. Many teachers send home ideas with students or post them on their school’s website. The school district also has a recommended reading list by grade that can be found at

Bodensteiner recommends regular trips to the library to check out books. For those on long car journeys, books on tape work well. Bodensteiner suggests that parents take the activity one stop further by asking children to summarize what happened, which character they liked best and what they think will happen next.

As for math skills, having children do the measuring while cooking or doing crafts can help keep their minds active.

In years past, the district received federal dollars for summer programming, but that funding has been reduced. The district also struggled with erratic attendance as students took off for vacations and other summer activities.

“In the future, we would want to look at something more camplike and hands-on,” Bodensteiner said.