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STEM Summer Programs Help At-Risk Youth Reduce Learning Loss

In late summer 2018, Da Vinci Science Center educators observed outstanding results and progress by the at-risk, elementary-aged students who participated in the STEM Summer Learning Programs in Allentown, Bethlehem Area, and Easton Area School Districts.  In all three districts, the majority of students maintained their levels of literacy and/or math skills on standardized tests, fighting off the ‘Summer Slide.’ The Science Center expects similar results from summer 2019 programs.

Studies show that during summer breaks, students can lose up to three months of grade level equivalency in math and reading.  Students from low-income backgrounds are especially impacted, due to unequal access to summer learning opportunities.  Summer learning is critical for student success.  A student not reading at grade level by third grade is 13 times more likely to drop out of school.

The combination of science and literacy is a powerful means to capture student interest and engagement. For the past few summers, the Da Vinci Science Center has partnered with Lehigh Valley school districts to provide six-week summer programs where students can participate in summer learning opportunities taught jointly by a classroom teacher and a Da Vinci science educator.  The co-teaching model combines expertise in science and literacy instruction in the form of hands-on science investigations into insects, robots, and transportation.  Based on best practices learned from the National Summer Learning Association, students receive more than 100 hours of learning instruction each summer.

Participants are given pre- and post-content assessments based on common misconceptions about the topic studied; each year students have scored better on post-tests.  Additionally, students’ attitudes about science have improved, with most saying they liked science more than they did at the beginning of the program.

Teachers are also extremely pleased with the program and their students’ progress, with one commenting, “A female student from our summer program is in my class.  Today by her seat there was a bug and everyone was like, ‘Ewww a bug’ and this student was like ‘No, it’s a spotted lanternfly; you have to get it!’  And I walked over and it was a spotted lanternfly! I was so proud!”

The Da Vinci Science Center recently wrapped up its fourth year of STEM Summer Learning.  The programs have been in high-demand, with area school districts requesting multiple programs and continued work with at-risk youth during the school year.