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Students go 'Above and Beyond'

Some might assume teachers in the Above and Beyond program would be touting the successes of 80 percent of the children who attend two-and-half week summer programs.

But Above and Beyond Director Laura Loshek also focuses on the 20 percent who do not seem to be getting the same benefit.

For the past five years, students in first through third grade who are lagging behind their classmates in school were referred to the program.

The reason to offer the extra help, funded by Community Education and other state money targeted for services, is that students at grade level and above are likely to retain their reading skills into the next year.

Kids who are behind, however, lose ground over the summer, making it likely they will be even more behind in the fall, according to educators.

Students who attend the summer program remain at the same reading level or gain, according to the results of fall testing.

Most of the children in this group do not want to be in the program, have short attention spans and need a lot of physical activity.

Learning from experience in previous years, and from what most educators know about how students learn, Loshek and teachers know these students need to bond with teachers and feel accepted.

"We need to show humanity," she said. "And show them that adults struggle, too."

Above and Beyond teaches ways to translate that philosophy into reality.

The start time has been changed this year from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

"I don't see the dragging I saw last year," Loshek said of the time change.

Students at Crestview and Red Rock schools are greeted at the door by their teachers as they get off the bus.

Kids are placed in groups with students they know from their regular schools and are transformed into groups of cucumbers, radishes, peppers, pumpkins and other vegetables.

"They are afraid they might not know anyone," she said.

Morning meetings are held where children formally greet each other with handshakes or other acknowledgements.

"For example, we might ask what their favorite color is," Loshek said.

"Teachers did the model. They are power teachers who are energetic and like to try new things."

Students spend half their time in reading and math. The other half is spent in enrichment classes such as CSI for Kids, Math at the Improv, Batiking, and Adventures in Volcanoes.

The message in enrichment classes is that learning is fun. Though the students are learning a craft, teachers keep kids reading and every opportunity to use math is captured.

Of course, reading is emphasized.

Low readers rely too much on sounding out syllables and trying to recognize words, according to literacy educators. Moving low readers beyond this stage is critical.

Reading faster is the goal. Those who read at low speeds, a task brains find hard, do not become fluent readers.

"Building fluency is vital," Loshek said. "Fluent readers solve problems on the run. These kids need connections and respect. They need to know that you're not just some boring teachers.

"We have high expectations, not low ones."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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