MOUNT VERNON — Every year, educators warn parents of the dreaded summer slide — learning loss that can occur while children are not in school. Expert opinions vary, with some warning that children can lose weeks or even months of the math and language skills they acquired during the school year.
Like many parents, Laura Sanders has heard about the importance of practicing math and reading skills with her children year round. Every summer, she spends hours each day playing with her two children and always enrolls them in the library’s summer reading program. Nine-year-old Elli and 6-year-old Levi both have Down syndrome, so she also signs them up for summertime speech therapy sessions.
When it came to day camps and other educational resources, there weren’t many options available that were a good fit for her kids. So when she found out about the Summer Learning Academy, she was eager to sign Elli and Levi up.
The Summer Learning Academy is a five-week, half-day camp designed for children with disabilities entering grades second through fifth. The camp is hosted by the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities and run by the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio (DSACO). The goal of the program is to prevent summer learning loss and help students make progress towards goals on their individualized education plans (IEPs).
“Summer learning loss can happen with any child,” said Kari Jones, president and CEO of DSACO. “Having a program that’s fun but also educational is really critical to long term success.”
This is the first year the camp has been offered in Knox County. In the past, parents who wanted to take advantage of the program would have to drive to Newark or another city in the Columbus area.
“They called last year and asked if we wanted to go to Newark, but that’s just too far,” said Laura.
According to Jones, the organization is offering seven camps at six locations this year. The camps are all staffed with local teachers and intervention specialists.
Janelle Young, who spent two years as an intervention specialist for the Knox Educational Service Center, is one of the teachers at the Mount Vernon camp.
“I love it. The kids are always so warm and friendly,” said Young. She and Teresa Sant, a preschool teacher and licensed intervention specialist, spend their mornings working with students on sight words, reading comprehension, math exercises and other play-based activities. Even playing with modeling clay can help the kids improve their fine motor skills, she explained.
While Levi practices counting, identifying characters in a story and comparing bigger and smaller numbers, Elli works with two digit numbers and answers who, what, where and when questions.
In addition to the educational aspect of the program, Laura is grateful for the social benefits it offers her children.
“They’re around other kids, which is nice,” she said. “It gives them something to do and look forward to.”
While her kids play with new friends, Laura enjoys one of a stay-at-home mom’s rarest pleasures — a few hours to herself.
“I’m able to make phone calls, run errands and so it’s a nice little break for me,” she said.
The Summer Learning Academy is just one of the local resources available for children like Elli and Levi. Laura said both of her children love the new, inclusive Harmony Playground at Memorial Park, where a rubberized tile surface and variety of accessible equipment mean they can play alongside other kids their age.
Their family has also taken advantage of recreational and educational scholarships offered through the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities. These scholarships can be used for camps or activities that benefit their children, including the Summer Learning Academy.
The Academy costs $150 per child, which Jones noted is significantly less than it costs to run the program. All six Mount Vernon attendees were covered by scholarships — three from the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities and three from DSACO. Additional funding from the Ohio Department of Disabilities helps cover the cost of running the camps.
Jones said she anticipates bringing the program back to Knox County next year and hopes to have a full roster of eight students.
“We’re excited to be here,” said Jones. “We want to be a lot more connected and part of communities like Mount Vernon.”