Students learn to read, and to love learning

Kindergartener Reginae Williams reads a book with Laura Kngsley, executive director of elementary schools, at Emma E. Booker Elementary School on Thursday, National Summer Learning Day. STAFF PHOTO / DAN WAGNER

Kindergartener Reginae Williams reads a book with Laura Kngsley, executive director of elementary schools, at Emma E. Booker Elementary School on Thursday, National Summer Learning Day. STAFF PHOTO / DAN WAGNER

SHELBY WEBB

Throughout Sarasota, children enrolled in summer reading academies

Caesar Borjas can't read yet, but he's eager to point out his favorite superheroes on book covers.

The five-year-old singled out Iron Man and spoke about how the hero could dominate the likes of Captain America and Thor as he sat in Alta Vista Elementary School's media center.

When a visitors asked if he read any books about superheroes at home, Caesar shook his head. When asked if he had a lot of books at home, the rising kindergartener shook his head again.

Such answers are not surprising to his summer teacher, Laura Busenburg: More than 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced price lunches, meaning they come from families that meet certain poverty guidelines.

Busenburg, who typically teaches fourth grade at the school, said the kindergarten students who come to Alta Vista during the summers have to learn everything from how to put up their trays after lunch to lining up and raising their hands.

“It took two weeks to teach them crisscross applesauce,” Busenburg said. “They barely have the motor skills to figure it out, so sometimes you have to tuck their legs in.”

Officials from the Sarasota County School District and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County toured several summer learning programs in North Sarasota on Thursday as part of national Summer Learning Day.

To commemorate the occasion, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County gave away 42,000 books across the school district to students who may not otherwise have access to books.

There were 182 summer learning events across Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida on Thursday, the most in any region of the country.

A huge priority

Making sure students at Title I schools — schools where 75 percent or more of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches — have access to instruction during summer months has become a priority of the school district and non-profits since educational leaders signed onto the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in 2011.

The Campaign stresses the importance of students reading proficiently by third grade. Research from the Annie E Casey Foundation shows that students who aren't reading on-level by third grade are 13 times more likely to drop out of school than their peers.

Just as troubling, about 80 percent of low-income students nationwide are not reading on grade-level by 3rd grade.

In an effort to provide more support for children from low-income families, the school district and non-profits — including the Community Foundation, the Patterson Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation — founded summer learning academies in several Title I schools.

The program started at Alta Vista with Eagle Academy in 2011. This year, about 330 students preparing to enter grades kindergarten through 3rd grade are enrolled.

This year also marks the first time such programs have made their way to other schools, including Gocio, Emma E. Booker and Tuttle Elementary schools, each of which are educating about 60 rising kindergarten students.

Tuttle, like the other schools with summer learning academies, focuses on two-generation learning that aims to improve the lives of parents and their students. The school offers free childcare Thursday evenings so parents can take one of several courses on campus, including English, cooking and wellness, finance and a class showing parents the best ways to help their children read.

A little more than 35 percent of students at Tuttle are in English Language Learning classes, the highest percentage in the district.

Tana Harvey, who has volunteered at Tuttle for about two years, said the students attending summer classes will be so much further ahead of their peers, especially with their early access to books and teachers.

“Some of these kids have no exposure to libraries or to books at home, so this is like Christmas for some of them,” Harvey said. “When kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds get the same equipment as the other kids, they feel like they're the same.

“I can't think of anything better than fostering a love of learning in them.”