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Rural OR Program Collaborates with Community to Bring Summer Learning

Summer Academy in Baker City provides interactive summer learning opportunities for children. (Jason Todd/Summer Academy 2017)
Summer Academy in Baker City provides interactive summer learning opportunities for children. (Jason Todd/Summer Academy 2017)
July 14, 2017

BAKER CITY, Ore. – Children cherish summer as a time when they are free from school, but the lack of academics can leave them behind in class the next year, educators say.

That's especially the case for students from low-income families who often don't have the resources for summer learning opportunities.

Add to that the challenges for rural communities, and the hurdles to keeping children on track can sometimes look insurmountable.

Enter Baker City in eastern Oregon. Its school district is in its second year of a successful program called Summer Academy.

School District Superintendent Mark Witty, who oversees the academy, talks about the challenges summer presents for students without a learning program.

"Those students will have a tendency to do what's called the ‘summer slide,’” he explains. “And so, they finish in May at a certain level in literacy and in math skills, and they'll start below that in September."

The Baker City program received grants from Umpqua Bank and charitable groups such as the Ford Family Foundation, and is run in partnership with nine organizations, including the Baker County Public Library, YMCA and Baker Heritage Museum.

Witty says the academy is interactive and almost like a camp. Students in the program take field trips every week.

Witty says in its first year, the program successfully kept students from sliding, and this year enrollment has increased from about 120 to 180 students.

He says schools are the centers of community activity in rural areas, and the program is successful because of the many community partners working together on it.

"So I think collaboration really is critical probably everywhere, but certainly in a rural community,” he stresses. “If you can collaborate, I think that makes a large difference on what are the types of programming that you can offer."

Witty says the sooner school districts and communities recognize the importance of providing learning opportunities year-round, the better off they will be.

"The success of our schools, the success of our students – that's going to directly relate to our economic value over time,” he states. “And so, for us to get a student to the seventh grade that's ready to learn and on track with their peers, that's a big deal."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR