Budget cuts have left little to no room for school districts to create new programs. Despite this, one local educator found a way to launch a new summer learning program. And now that’s also in jeopardy.
Roger Dahl founded the Summer Literacy Lab three years ago when he was looking for a new approach to summer school. “Summer school should not be a program where you redo what the kids failed at during the school year. Let’s try something different a little paradigm shift, a little change of course,” said Dahl, a Cal State Teach Instructor.
The Summer Literacy Lab is not your traditional summer school. It’s an intense 17 day program where students who are struggling with their English speaking and reading skills, receive one on one attention. The class of 20 second graders has 17 teachers. Together they work on things like pronunciation, word recognition and reading. Beyond the student teacher ratio, another difference is how the teachers decide what to teach, which is highly data driven. Students are tested every day. “We give them a whole bunch of tests, determine where they are, and we teach to those tests. Every single day we look back, how are those kids doing,” said Dahl.
Making the Summer Literacy Lab a reality took a patchwork of funding. First Dahl received some seed money from the Yellow Brick Road Benefit Shop, a second-hand store in Carmel known for supporting local education programs. Then Dahl recruited volunteer student teachers from Cal State Teach, the teacher accreditation program in the California State University system. The final piece of the puzzle was a federal education grant that covered the cost of two professional teachers. But that grant runs out this year, putting the whole program in jeopardy. “I’ve often times thought that education is kind of an anti-business model. In business if something works, you replicate it. In education sometimes if it’s successful, they pull the money away,” said Dahl.
One person who is confident the program won’t go away is Taffra Purnsley. She’s the principal of Highland Elementary School in Seaside. For the past three years, her students have attended the Summer Literacy Lab. “We will do everything we can to continue the model it’s just good practice,” said Purnsley. She knows the program works because tests show all students in the Summer Lab improved their reading skills. She also hears it from parents. “Almost every single conference I participated in this last year, the parents some were teary with gratitude. And others just made the comment, wish we could have this level of support for their child all year long,” said Purnsley.
For now, Dahl just hopes to save the summer program he’s created, and he’s optimistic he’ll find a way to make that happen.