Ramping Up For Summer Learning

Guest Correspondence


Success in early education for children is the key component to a future grounded in opportunities, accomplishments and economic self-sufficiency. However, the fact of the matter is that too many children are entering kindergarten already behind. Too many children are missing vital days at school. And too many children are losing ground academically over the summer. It’s happening right here in our own communities.

Fortunately, we are proud to work in a mobilized and collaborative region that is paving the way in addressing the needs of our region’s students and making a substantial impact on early educational efforts.

Five years ago, donors Mary Kay and Joe Henson partnered with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to prove that philanthropy could support an experimental summer-learning program at Alta Vista Elementary School. Teaming up with school principal Dr. Barbara Shirley, the Eagle Academy was born—aimed at preventing summer learning loss and ensuring that children were reading on grade-level. Over the following years and with support from the Community Foundation and our donors, programs for parents as well as other social services were added to the effort to integrate a two-generation approach in addressing the needs of the students as well as their families simultaneously.

Now, others are building upon the success that philanthropy started. The Eagle Academy became so successful in improving achievement levels that the Sarasota County School District agreed to expand the model into three other elementary schools: Emma E. Booker, Gocio and Tuttle—all schools with a heavy population of students from low-income households and that fall at the bottom of performance results.

So far, each have seen a reduction in chronic absenteeism, a significant improvement in the school readiness of students attending pre-K programs, and a rise of students attending summer learning programs to improve overall reading levels and prevent summer slide.  However, this is only the beginning.

Additionally, together under the banner of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, local philanthropists such as Joe and Mary Kay Henson, incredible school administrators like Dr. Shirley, armies of volunteer mentors and tutors, well-established nonprofit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County, Girls Inc. and others, we are ramping up our efforts in addressing summer learning loss with a unified goal of success in early education for at-risk students. 

The bottom line is that we are changing lives for better futures.  Along with all of Sarasota’s other incredible distinctions, we should share community pride in setting the pace in addressing the educational needs of our students and the economic needs of their parents.

As we approach the summer months, for many it can be a time of fond memories attending camps, taking vacations, or getting involved in an educational enrichment opportunity. However, for the families in our community who cannot afford to provide the opportunities their children need during the school break, this time can be a source of dread and a hindrance in their children’s success—not only in school, but in life. Fortunately, our community is stepping up and ensuring that all children deserve a better chance at life.

There is work for all of us, and we look forward to our community continuing to lead the way, meaning new possibilities for students and for our future. As always, I thank all those who are being the ones to make a difference.

Roxie Jerde is president of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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