Editor's Note: Roxie Jerde is the President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
For many students time outside of school during the summer can be far from a vacation. Without adequate resources, struggling families can find they are unable to patch together an environment of activities, learning, and even safety for their children while they are out of the classroom or before they even enter kindergarten. The amount of obstacles is numerous. Often, the parent is a single mother or father, and quality learning time with a child can be a scarce resource when you’re trying to provide for your family. Also, other urgent needs regularly take priority over providing adequate daycare or bringing books and learning materials into the home. Additionally, cultural and language barriers can also contribute to a child falling behind their peers academically.
These situations have a significant effect on whether or not a child will be prepared for school and often extend an already wide learning gap – teachers of Title 1 schools regularly see the evidence first-hand. Fortunately, our A-rated Sarasota County school district is addressing the issue.
Nothing can ever replace the impact a parent has when it comes to a child’s success – so schools have begun to eliminate the hurdles that both the parent and the child face through a two-generation inspired lens. Recently, four Title 1 elementary schools (Alta Vista, Gocio, Tuttle, and Emma E. Booker), supported by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and other partners, began their Summer Learning Academies (SLAs) designed to provide a beneficial learning environment for their students over the summer plus opportunities for their parents.
While the SLAs are in session and afford parents the relief of knowing their children are in a safe learning environment for at least six weeks, school social workers also work to identify potential issues at home that may affect a student’s academic potential. One social worker at Gocio Elementary shared, “when a child’s physiological and safety needs are not being met, it becomes severely difficult for them to focus on their social and academic well-being, as well as difficult for a teacher to engage with them in the classroom.“
Through a network of initiatives such as Season of Sharing and the Student Emergency Fund, social workers quickly provide resources to struggling families that can cover the cost of rent and utilities that occur because of an emergency or shoes for growing feet and reading glasses for children who are struggling to see the smart board.
Support for the families is also not just financial. Parents who opt-in their children for these SLAs also attend weekly or bi-weekly “parent universities” designed to instruct them on a variety of topics such as financial sustainability, nutritional cooking, building social capital, and navigating the educational system. At two of the schools, Gocio and Tuttle, a forward-looking program in partnership with UnidosNow is also providing English classes for parents who are first-generation immigrants. The curriculum teaches them about the American educational system, so they understand such things as parent-teacher conferences.
We are proud of the impact these summer Academies have made within the last few years, and recognition from the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has reinforced this work. Our region’s interconnectedness and willingness to tackle community issues by everyone coming together has been the core driving force of providing a better future for our children. There is still more to be done, but we are taking the right steps in serving as a pacesetter for this work. Seeing the smiles on children enjoying learning and reading is the return on investment that we all cherish!