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Jahniya McDowell, 8, who this fall will be a third-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, is proud of her language skills. She also was part of a team who created a menu, set prices and will work in the Jets Cafe.

"We had antonyms and synonyms, and then we wrote the meaning," she said during a session of Camp Re-Imagine, an enrichment camp that the Davenport School District presents in partnership with the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency. 

At the camp, the children — referred to as "scholars" — learned about health, creating a menu and running a restaurant, planting and tending a butterfly garden, creating a Lego carnival and engineering.

The camp, free and open to all students, drew about 100 children. It is one of the Quad-City initiatives that will help prevent the “summer slide.”

This slide isn't something for children to go down. The phrase refers to the tendency of students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the school year.

Quad-City educators, school districts, museums, libraries and other non-profit organizations provide learning experiences for students to prevent the summer slide. So children like Jahniya and fellow scholar Himar Chavez , who makes it clear he soon will turn 8, are excited about showing the community what they have leaned that they will demonstrate to the public on Wednesday.

In the meantime, educators collaborate on how to prevent the slide and even accelerate learning for students during the summer.

Diane Campbell, with Mississippi Bend AEA, says the agency is a strong partner with the Davenport district. Camp Re-Imagine, she said, is "not only to prevent the summer slide, it's actually to increase their skills, so that when students come back to school, they're actually ahead of the game." She said the partnership with the district has been "amazing."

For teachers, Camp Re-Imagine has been a learning experience, too. Chelsey Knapper, who teachers second grade at Jefferson, instructed students in the Lego Carnival, where students learned about coding and what Lego pieces can do. "We taught them the basics of simple machines," she said, adding that their projects involved vocabulary building, too.

"They were really excited about it coming in," said teacher Elizabeth McCartney, who also teaches second grade at Jefferson. "We built on their enthusiasm." Students even used a 3-D printer to design their own Lego-type pieces, she said.

Other Quad-City initiatives provide ample summer learning opportunities for students, too. For example, Mike Raso, superintendent of Bettendorf schools, says the district has a variety of approaches to preventing the summer slide. “We try to do our best, especially with our kids who are struggling or are already behind. We have summer school in all our buildings during summer time,” he said.

At the high school, credited recover classes help students who need to make up credits.

“In a couple of our schools, we have a teacher who reads to students during the summer,” he said. “They read together. For an hour or two, they invite anybody to come in and bring a book, or they have informal reading times.”

Not all students "slide" during the summer, Raso says. "Some students grow during the summer. They have experiences outside of school, they travel and go to different camps,” he said. “But not all students can do that. We try to set up opportunities for students during the summer time.”

He stressed that it’s important to get children to read proficiently by the third grade. Grade-level reading by the end of third grade is an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.

According to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Most students who fail to reach that milestone falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.

The skills low-income students lose over the summer are cumulative, and contribute to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students whose parents might not be able to afford to enroll their children in some summer programs.

“For the past three years, more than 90 percent of the children completing Spring Forward camps have either maintained or gained in their reading levels,” said Dan McNeil, executive director of the Spring Forward Learning Center, Rock Island, which partners closely with the Rock Island-Milan School District.

The center serves more than 600 children in after-school and summer programs provided free to families.

For Spring Forward, the past five summers have been focused on building and growing six-week enrichment to address educational inequality. This summer, Spring Forward served more than 400 children at five summer camps, providing teachers at the Martin Luther King Center Camp and partnering with Augustana College for the new Kids on Campus. Camps included field trips, games and other activities.

Elsewhere, five non-profit organizations are participating in a series of field trips created by The Moline Foundation. Known as “Let’s Getz Going,” the trips are funded by the Tom & Karen Getz Summertime FUNd, the Conrad Nelson Memorial Fund and The Moline Foundation.

Children in third through sixth grade are learning about the building of the new Interstate 74 bridge, the Q train station, MetroLINK electric buses, the Quad-City International Airport and the Channel Cat water taxi. Participating organizations include the Boys & Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley, Two Rivers YMCA, Hand-in-Hand, Girl Scouts and Youth Hope. 

“Our number one goal is ensuring our kids maintain or gain in reading levels,” McNeil said. “To accomplish this, we employ teachers who provide literacy instruction, 30 minutes per day, a minimum of three days a week.”

Various financial supporters ensure that camps are free or affordable. Since 2010, for instance, the Doris and Victor Day Foundation has provided Spring Forward and other nonprofits more than $750,000 for summer enrichment camps, outreach and other programs. “The foundation’s commitment has leveraged hundreds of thousands in additional support and impacted thousands of children,” McNeil said.

Grade-level reading by the end of third grade is an important predictor of school success and whether a student will graduate from high school, McNeil said: “Up until third grade, you’re learning to read,” McNeil said. “From third grade on, you read so you can learn everything else.“

According to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, more than 80 percent of low-income children don't read proficiently at the end of third grade. Most students who fail to reach the third-grade milestone falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.

In an event organized by Spring Forward and sponsored by Deere & Co., 800 kids enrolled in summer camps celebrated national Summer Learning Day with a rock band, enrichment activities, a red carpet for the kids, a book giveaway and lunch July 12 at the TaxSlayer Center, Moline.

McNeil said the Spring Forward board believes there are three components to education: family, school and community. “We’re that third piece of the puzzle,” he said. This movement stretches across the Quad-Cities.”

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.