School was about to end. But Ruth Cohenson, the librarian at the Leeds Avenue School in Pleasantville, already had a summer reading plan in place.
Tables piled with books awaited her students, each getting a bag with three books to take home for the district’s Book in a Bag summer reading project.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Volunteers from the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New …
These were not textbooks, but popular books Cohenson thinks students might enjoy, such as “Super Schnoz at the Gates of Smell.”
“I saw that and said the boys are going to love it,” she said. “These books are popular and also got good reviews.”
Students may think of summer as a time of no school work, but educators know that skills must be reinforced to prevent the “summer slide.”
Disadvantaged students lose two to three months of their reading skills and two months of math skills over the summer, while wealthy students may even gain new skills, according to the National Summer Learning Association. Over several summers the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers can widen to as much as two years of school.
Michael Hinman has seen learning loss first hand in students in Galloway Township, where he is supervisor of curriculum and coordinator of a summer program that will bring 300 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade back to school from 8:30 a.m. to noon in July.
“We are targeting children who show potential for summer slide or who have special academic needs,” Hinman said, including students from other countries still learning English.
Hinman said he has tracked student progress and can show that while most students slip a little over the summer, students who attended the program slipped a lot less.
“A student who was reading 90 words a minute might slip to 70,” he said. “But a student in the summer program would only drop to 80 or 85, and they also catch up more quickly in September.”
The program will focus on academics, but also include recreation and physical education such as yoga.
Volunteers worked with the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey last week at the Reeds Road School to help pack about 3,000 bags with books, games and snacks that will be distributed to summer programs in Camden, Galloway Township, Egg Harbor Township and Cumberland County.
Synthia Moore, of Galloway Township, brought her three children to help pack and said they would be making regular trips to the library during the summer in addition to football and band camp. Her daughter Saniyah Justiniano, 11, brought home a log from school to track her summer reading.
Funding for summer programs is coming less from strapped local school budgets and more from federal Title I or other grant funds. Atlantic City and Pleasantville will offer programs that combine academics and athletics.
More summer programs are serving meals as an extensions of the free- and reduced-fee meal program offered during the school year. A 2015 report by the Food Research and Action Group found that less than 20 percent of the more than 425,000 New Jersey children who get the meals during the school year also got summer meals.
The New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign is working to raise awareness and recruit more agencies and sites to offer summer meals through the state Department of Agriculture summer meals program.
Galloway will provide breakfast to its students. The Egg Harbor City school district will include both breakfast and lunch for students in its free Summer Super Camp for children in grades 4 through 7 that will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily in July.
Egg Harbor City camp coordinator Lisa Jiampetti said 53 students have registered for the camp, which can take as many as 70. The camp will have a science, technology, engineering and math focus.
The program is funded through a federal 21st Century Schools grant, which used to provide money for food, but no longer does. The district coordinates with the Pleasantville Recreation Department to get the free meals.
While summer programs are designed to be fun, they have a serious purpose.
Pleasantville librarian Cohenson knows students might need a little nudging to actually read their bag of books. Five summer reading coordinators will check in with parents to make sure the students do the assigned project.