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The Gazette: Achievement Academy bridges crucial summer learning gaps

The Gazette: Achievement Academy bridges crucial summer learning gaps

CEDAR RAPIDS — Imani Perdomo, a rising fourth-grader at Johnson STEAM Academy, is spending the summer learning and exploring her community at the Achievement Academy at Jane Boyd Community House.

Imani, 8, has been coming to the summer school program since she was in kindergarten for child care and to help prepare her academically and socially-emotionally for the next school year. Some of her favorite things to do at the Achievement Academy are math lessons, crafts and reading and writing mystery stories, and making snacks like graham crackers frosted with blue frosting, topped with Goldfish crackers and sprinkles to resemble the ocean.

Imani is one of about 85 kindergarten through fifth-grade children in the Cedar Rapids Community School District attending the 10-week summer school program for kids from high-risk communities. Families apply to be a part of the program, the cost of which is assessed on a sliding scale fee based on income. State child care assistance, which is available to the children of income-eligible parents who are absent for a portion of the day because of a job or participation in academic or vocational training, is also accepted. Jane Boyd Community House Director Megan Isenberg said families pay an average of $25 a week for their child to participate.

The program is expanding this summer by adding a certified teacher, Shaylee Maas, to address gaps in reading and math after decades of providing summer school to Cedar Rapids students.

A certified teacher helps tailor direct instruction to target specific student needs, Isenberg said. Other teachers with Achievement Academy are there to get experience in a summer job while working toward degrees in teaching or social work, Isenberg said.

The Cedar Rapids school board in May approved an agreement for summer programming with Jane Boyd, paying $26,560 toward the program and to help with hiring a certified teacher.

Maas said there are “big gaps missing” in children’s learning, which she especially noticed teaching second grade in the Linn-Mar Community School District. Her students during the 2021-22 school year were in kindergarten when the pandemic hit in March 2020, and missed half of that academic year. Their first grade year was a blend of virtual and in-person learning.

Even so, Maas is confident students today can get back on track and is working with them to fill in foundational skills such as letter recognition with kindergartners and phonics.

“Repetition is key — keep working with them and they will grow,” she said. “They’re filling in those gaps really quickly.”

Of students in Achievement Academy over the years:

  • 97 percent report having a positive relationship with an adult who they trust outside their family;
  • 44 percent live at or below the federal poverty line;
  • 41 percent are from single-parent households;
  • 94 percent report feeling a positive sense of self;
  • and 55 percent increase their reading proficiency.

Jane Boyd also has staff who work at Grant elementary and Johnson STEAM to help families gain access to mental health services and basic needs, like food, toiletries and housing, and are available during the summer at the Achievement Academy.

Megan Brown, Jane Boyd program manager, has worked with students in the Cedar Rapids district for almost a decade. Brown is a “consistent adult kids can trust,” Isenberg said.

Brown always knew she wanted to help people — and tried being a nurse — before she realized it was the connection with kids where she felt she had the most impact.

Many of the children who come to Jane Boyd have a similar background to what Brown experienced growing up, she said. Brown described a lackluster education in Jamaica, where she was born and raised in a single-parent household.

Being in the schools helps Brown see where the students are emotionally and how it impacts them academically.

Achievement Academy also is fun and games, with students going on field trips to community pools, splash pads, learning about sports, gardening with Iowa State University Extension and even taking a field trip to Indian Creek Nature Center this week.

See the original story in the Gazette

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