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Summer learning programs aim to keep kids sharp

  • (l to r) Alan Lopez, 12, Jose Echeverria, 13, Samuel Garcia, 13, design their CO2 powered cars at the Comstock Maker Camp in Santa Rosa on June 27, 2013.

    (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Manny DeLeon got straight A's last year as an eighth-grader at Comstock Middle School, but he signed up for Make Camp because he didn't want to lose a step academically over the summer.

Just like the image its name conjures, students at the three-week camp make things: chairs out of cardboard, carbon-dioxide-powered cars, videos and hot air balloons.

"It's really fun. It gives me something to do that I actually enjoy," DeLeon said as he designed a cardboard chair Thursday. "It's a chance to make something I'm really proud of."

Comstock Maker Camp

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The second annual Make Camp is focused not just on fun, but on reinforcing academic concepts and fostering curiosity, all in the summer months when many kids let their minds go idle.

So-called summer learning loss hits socioeconomically disadvantaged kids harder than their peers, according to studies.

And the impact is not just felt in the first few weeks of school, when math concepts feel rusty for most kids. Over time, the losses can add up and exacerbate the achievement gap between white, middle- and upper-class students and students of color or those from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.

Two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income ninth-graders and their peers is attributable to summer learning loss, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

"This is a huge issue that comes up for kids," said Mickey Porter, assistant superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

For many children from low-income families, access to summer learning experiences — camps, sports teams, vacations and excursions — is not a choice their parents are able to make, she said.

"It's not that families in poverty wouldn't think to sit down and play Scrabble, it's, is that on their docket for what life holds?" she said. "For people who are struggling more, they don't necessarily have the luxury to have an adult at home."


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