Chewelah School Garden A Haven For Summer Learning

By Paige Browning

While the hot, carefree days of summer slide by, some elementary-age kids will slip in their reading skills. One Washington school has tag-teamed with other organizations to boost summmer learning instead. 
It's a team effort at Gess Elementary School's garden in Chewelah. Teacher Cheryl Templeton squats alongside first- through fifth-graders as they mix cement. Twenty-five kids are enrolled in the Gess Garden Reading Club, and today they're making stepping stones. 
Templeton: "It's really fun, I hope. They seem to be having fun and learning lots. To be able to connect the stepping stones to the fact that lots of our bridges are make of cememt and have rebar inside." 
That connection is part of Templeton's summer cirriculum. They also plant veggies, weed the beds and read books about gardening. Templeton says Chewelah offers little to do in the summer for kids. So, Gess Elementary qualified for and received a $5,000 Feed Your Brain grant from Schools Out Washington. The group's grant and organizational manager Virginia Eader says they've granted 170 summer programs since 2001, all in rural areas. 
Eader: "Rurual areas are, as you know, a lot more isolated, a lot more poverty, just less opportunities for kids to engage in learning opportunities." 
A report from the National Summer Learning Association shows summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading. Schools Out Washington studies learning loss by adminitering a before and after reading test in the summer programs. 
Eader: "And I think since we've been doing this for the last 13 years, 96 percent have either maintained or increased their reading level based on that assessment."
Lindsey Pettigrew says she enrolled her son Tyler because he has a hard time with reading comprehension. 
Pettigrew: "So I've seen, like, lightyears difference in actually wanting to read and wanting to know information, versus where he would just shrug his shoulders and say I don't know..." 
The almost second-grader says this club is way better than normal school. His mom says they had nothing like this when she grew up in Chewelah. 
Pettigrew: "That's what I told him - this summer school is far better than the summer school we had." 
Templeton says they augmented Feed Your Brain with school busses from a 21st Century grant, book donations from a Page Ahead grant and a free meal program for students. 
While the kids find working in the garden fun, parents and educators find it critical for the students' growth. 
Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio 
Web extras:
2009 Fact Sheet by National Summer Learning Association
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