As students played with puzzles Monday on the carpet, kindergarten teacher Emily Gray sat at the center of a C-shaped table at Jennings Creek Elementary School and pointed out words for student Maria Lopez Chang to name and spell.

“I know it,” Maria said, jotting down the answer on her dry-erase board.

Gray gave an approving smile.

“Maria is my most confident student,” she said.

Now in her second year teaching at Warren County Public Schools’ Summer Literacy Academy, Gray said the experience gives her something her native Rich Pond Elementary School can’t. The program helps serve English learning students and struggling readers from other cultures, which teaches her to be a more nimble educator.

“I get to learn about their culture and how best to serve them,” Gray said.

The district’s Summer Literacy Academy, now in its fifth year, is seeing more participation than ever. Last year, the district expanded transportation services, allowing students from all of its elementary schools to more easily participate in the six-week program. On a typical day, the program draws about 200 students.

This week, the academy is wrapping up, and students will be assessed to gauge how much progress they’ve made.

Manesha Ford, a curriculum coordinator at Richardsville Elementary School who helps organize the program, said teachers use students’ STAR reading assessment results and conduct informal skill inventories to shape their lessons.

“They develop a curriculum and work in small groups to specifically hit the skills that each student needs so that they can fill in those gaps,” Ford said.

The idea is to help students retain the skills they mastered during the previous school year, Ford said.

The Kentucky Department of Education said research has shown that students on average lose about two months of mathematics and reading learning during summer vacation. The phenomenon, commonly called summer slide, can be more pronounced for students without resources, such as an abundance of books in the home.

But Ford said the Summer Literacy Academy’s goal is to go further than just helping students retain what they already know.

“Our goal is for our students not just to maintain, but to gain,” she said.

Progress monitoring doesn’t end in July, Ford said: “We also track those students after they go back to their schools” and see if their scores improve throughout the year.

Currently, this year’s academy is still determining potential student gains, but in previous years, gains have been especially pronounced for English learning students.

“We see a lot of growth in them,” Ford said, adding the opportunity to hear English over the summer is vital to students’ progress in language acquisition.

For Gray, it’s a way to help level the playing field for students in need.

“I think we are a good resource for the students that need a little extra attention … so they will be a success in the coming school year,” she said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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