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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

To Prevent 'Summer Slide,' Milwaukee Group Encourages Kids To Read


With less than one month left until school starts, kids will soon trade in their play-dates for pencils, and get back to the lessons they left for summer vacation.

The big question for teachers: how much review will their students need at first? Educators often wrangle with the "summer slide," varying degrees of academic regression students face upon returning to school, after taking a three-month break from regular daily instruction.

That's where SHARP Literacy comes in.

The Milwaukee-based organization works with kids year-round to develop and enhance engagement in reading, writing and research. That work continues seamlessly through the summer, with SHARP's Summer Learning Gain Initiative. 

Through partnerships with a handful of local community centers, learning centers and schools, SHARP instructors work with more than 350 Milwaukee kids between June and September through hands-on reading and visual arts curriculum. 

The goal of the eight-week program is to help kids keep up when school’s out of session, particularly for students in some of the city's most at-risk schools. 

"We don't want them to have to play catch up when school starts again," says SHARP president and CEO Lynda Kohler. "We're eliminating that catch-up, where they can continue to learn throughout the year."

Come September, SHARP will also provide instruction in 35 area public, charter and choice schools. Kohler anticipates they'll serve about 8,500 kids in K5 though 5th grade, in addition to piloting a K4 program during the upcoming year. 

The program will also expand beyond Milwaukee to Waukesha County during the 2016-17 school year. 

This year also marks SHARP's 20th anniversary. Kohler says plenty of things have changed - school environments, teaching loads, technology - despite stagnant achievement gaps in reading. 

"The good news is we continue to expand and serve more students, and the bad news is that we're still around," she says. "It would be great for us to go out of business if the need wasn't there, but unfortunately the need is there, and it's even greater than it was 20 years ago."